What your cyclist doesn’t want for Christmas

December 4, 2014 § 45 Comments

He’s already angling. “Honey, we’ll take a family ski trip again this year!”

“Oh, great! The kids will love it and we’ll have some time together,” you say.

“I’m really excited about it! Also, there’s a really cool wheelset I’ve had my eye on for Christmas.”

Or maybe it’s a new frame, or a new electro drivetrain, or whatever. But it’s not something that will save your cyclist’s life every single day: It’s not a full-bore head and rear taillight.

“Oh, Pooky doesn’t need lights!” you say. “I don’t let him ride at night.”

Well, I’m not talking about riding at night. A powerful headlamp with a 4-hour blink mode and a powerful taillight with an equivalent blink time is the single biggest safety upgrade your wanker will never make. If I had to choose between riding without a helmet and riding without my daytime lights, I’d forego the helmet ten out of ten times.

Why? Because in the daytime we are constantly dealing with cagers in front who are exiting driveways, exiting parking lots, pulling away from the curb, turning into traffic, and merging into traffic. The flashing headlamp invariably gets the attention of the few drivers who never even see us and arrests their development.

More importantly, the front flashing headbeam gets the attention of the cagers who already see us, which is the vast majority. The problem is that although they see us, the average cager has terrible depth perception and an even worse ability to judge our speed. That’s why so many drivers look us square in the eye even as they haul out in front of us. We’re on bikes. How fast can we really be?

The flashing headlight has a hypnotic effect on the cager contemplating a quickie pull-out. It pierces the multiple levels of dumb, the thickened callus of maroon, and spears deep into the tiny, pealike structure that devolved from its hominid-like brain. Once the neuron-like signal of “bright flashing light” strikes the tiny, shrunken, dessicated cager brain, it causes a chain reaction. The next thought is “Duh … ” followed by “Flashing light mean danger maybe,” followed by “Keep concrete foot on brake pedal thingy until blinky go bye-bye.”

In the six or seven seconds it takes the cager to process this complex thought, your cyclist honey has zipped on past. I’ve experienced this countless times. The flashing headlamp in daylight works.

The flashing taillight has an even stronger effect on cagers approaching from your honey’s cute and compact rear. The red light screams “DUI checkpoint!” and automatically causes cagers to slow. By drawing their attention to your cyclist’s hunky bottom, the cagers then give a wide berth, or at least the light focuses them long enough not to clip you when they pass.

Do your honey a favor and make sure that he/she gets a pair in his/her stocking.

“But Wanky!” you say. “What kind should I get?”

Glad you asked.

The power of a bike light is measured in lumens. More lumens means more light means more money means fewer purchases of neck braces and Tegaderm. For the headlamp you want a minimum of 500 lumens, but given the low cost you can easily go to 750.

Serfas has an awesome 750 headlamp that clips to the handlebar, recharges with a USB connection, and will stun the average cager for long enough to sneak past his bumper. There’s no reason to get the excellent and $20 cheaper 550. For $160, which is less than a pair of nice bib shorts, less than half a good pair of shoes, and roughly the price of two decent tires, you can equip your wanker with something that will keep him alive.

For your fanny, a great choice is the retina-searing Serfas 80-lumen taillight. This is like a lighthouse beacon combined with a fire engine light and neon strip club sign. It has a blinky mode that will run for hours and keep all manner of bad drivers alert to your existence.

Now, I can hear the objections. “My wanker already has a light!”

I know. I’ve seen it. It’s a puny little blinky thing that you can only see when you’re ten feet away. Please toss these inferior, false-sense-of-security things in the trash. Even if your biker has a good light, say 350 lumens, now is the time to upgrade. Remember, this is the person who thinks nothing of tossing $2k on a pair of wheels that will be toast in a season and that won’t even get him on a podium. When it comes to lights, think “upgrade.” The power goes up every year as the cost goes down. If you’re going to cheapass your bike stuff, cheapass the arm warmers. Don’t skimp on the lights.

The final objection will of course come from the rider himself. “I ain’t riding that during the day. It weighs too much/It looks stupid/I ride with a group/It’s too much of a pain to charge it.”

You can deal with all of these objections by pointing out that your cyclist is a bleeding maroon and telling him that the only time weight and cool matter is on race day. The rest of the time it’s his job to come home alive and in one piece. If you have to, withhold. Girls will know what I mean.

So, there you have it. Merry Christmas!

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Light enough to kill you

November 30, 2014 § 37 Comments

I’ve always been a late adopter when it comes to trick bike stuff. Part of that, say, 99%, is out of sheer cheapness. Nothing makes me sadder than spending money on a bicycle part. Except one thing, which is the other 1% that explains my resistance to change — the only thing I hate worse than spending money on bicycle things is having a bicycle thing break while I’m using it.

The importance of things not breaking on a bicycle is generally important, but with some components it is very, very important. Bikes have multiple back-up safety systems. When one wheel goes, you generally still have another. If the right brake fails, the left one is usually still working. There are multiple bolts to keep your handlebars in place. Two derailleurs. Thirty-two spokes per wheel. Etc.

But there are a couple of components whose failure can be catastrophic. One is the chain, and the other is the pedal. When your chain snaps, better hope you’re not out of the saddle. Same for your pedal. If it decides to go, and you’re sprinting or climbing out of the saddle, something bad is going to happen.

One of my current cases involves a pedal failure. The rider was out of the saddle and the spindle sheared off. It was a new pedal, and he suffered pretty severe injuries. We’re still waiting for the metallurgist’s report, but I will be very surprised if the pedal wasn’t defective. New, high-end racing pedals aren’t supposed to snap off when you press down hard them. The more I’ve looked at this pedal and its design, the more impressed I’ve been with what a flimsy piece of equipment it is. There truly is no “there” there.

Ever since the second generation of Look clipless pedals came out, I’ve exclusively used their pedals. Look isn’t the pedal company referred to above, by the way. Their pedals have traditionally been, well, bullet-proof. I used one pedal set for more than ten years. The pedals were fairly heavy and had a lot of metal in them.

Two or three years ago I upgraded to the top-of-the-line Look racing pedal, which had just come out. This was a major violation of my “don’t buy trick” rule. The pedals were super light and had a broad platform. I loved them.

Then one day about six months ago I was coming up to a stop light. I twisted my foot and the entire pedal body came off the spindle. Thinking the pedal had broken, I got off and examined it. It wasn’t broken. The pedal body screws onto the spindle by virtue of tiny, shallow, plastic threads in the end of the body. It is flimsy beyond any description.

I mentioned it to a friend, who said that in the heat of battle during the BWR, she’d tried to dismount going up a dirt wall and her Look pedal had gone flying off into a field. It too had simply come unscrewed.

I’d not thought much about the problem with my Looks until contemplating the design of the pedal that had sheared off at the spindle that’s probably going to result in litigation. What kind of design is it that would put such a crucial component subject to so much stress at the mercy of a few thin plastic threads? Were the extra couple of ounces worth it? What if the plastic screw-on edge had cracked, and the pedal body shattered when you got out of the saddle? Did anyone at Look know? Or care? How many people with Look pedals examine the pedal body assembly for cracks every time they ride? Or ever?

Then I thought about all the other trick bike items that magically appear on shelves every year, components tested in the field on pro teams where the “big” guys weigh 170, the “average” guys weigh 150, and the “small” guys weigh 130 — about the size of a rather large dog. And the “testing” of these products may only involve one season, where the component is maintained by a Pro Tour bike mechanic.

Shattered handlebars, carbon wheelsets that melt when real world big people descend on them, chains that are too weak, crankarms that bust off, and seatposts that break under the rider’s weight or the shocks of the road are only a few of the under-designed trick bike parts that I’ve seen break, and sometimes the consequences have been catastrophic. As the UCI prepares to further loosen weight requirements, look for new designs that are truly disposable, frames and components made — if you’re lucky — to survive a single race season, or maybe even just a single race.

Throw into the mix the thousands of idiots who’ve recently entered the sport and who have no idea what they’re buying, no experience with component failure, and no one to tap them on the shoulder and say, “Hey, pal, until you get the late night tubs of ice cream under control, better steer clear of the 12-pound full carbon rig.” They think they’re buying something snazzy that will help them get fit; I think they’re buying something that’s not designed with them in mind.

After almost 30 years as a devoted Look customer I did some research and bought a heavier pedal, one with more metal in it, and one made by a company that seemed willing to compromise a little bit of weight for a lot more durability in a component where failure shouldn’t be an option. Because in the end, no amount of money from a lawsuit is going to compensate you for a catastrophic injury from which you never fully recover.

And if you save a few bucks in the process, which I did, well, winning.

END

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My droopy sack

September 26, 2014 § 45 Comments

I thought I was the only person with a droopy sack until I saw my buddy Pablo post about the same problem on Facebag. It is quite embarrassing when your bag doesn’t hang tight against your post and sort of droops and sags. Like Pablo’s, at times mine droops so low I have to reach down with both hands to haul it back up. Maybe because of age or overuse, no matter how often I grab my sack and pull it up, after a while it sags back down.

There are lots of cyclists out there with droopy sacks, and it’s a big problem. For one, your sack is where you keep your multi-tool, and it can be a big headache when you’re trying to get to your tool but your sack is just dangling around. Part of the reason my sack dangles is because it’s mostly empty. This makes it flop from side to side. Back in the day when I was young, my sack was always snug up against the post, and it was always full. I think having a full sack made it more stable.

Unfortunately, none of the things I’ve tried have worked. My first attempt involved grabbing my sack with one hand and then with the other tightening a strap around it. Too much pressure on the sack makes it bulge, though. My second attempt was to just shift it over a bit, but it seems like the sack itself is unbalanced, as one side of the sack hangs down lower than the other. I think that may be because of the contents of the sack.

Some riders have done away with their sack entirely, and they just stuff their tool in their jersey. I’ve tried it, but with your tool in your jersey pocket it sometimes pokes you in the back, which is uncomfortable. Plus, the tool itself is quite hard and can rip through the jersey fabric. Still other riders have actually replaced their sack with a smaller one. I can’t imagine jamming all that stuff into a tiny bag.

Anyway, I’ve had this sack for a long time and it has served me well. For now the best solution is simply to reach down and grab my bag when it dangles too low, shove it back up and readjust the way I’m sitting to keep my thighs from batting it to and fro. It can get whacked pretty hard if you bat your sack with your thighs by mistake, but generally this seems to work fine. If anyone out there on the Internet has any good ideas about how to handle a really droopy sack, let me know. My current sack is a medium-sized Serfas, with two zippers and a clip-on belt for a light or rear reflector, and it easily holds two tubes and cartridges, as well as my tool.

END

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Homage to Taiwan

August 10, 2014 § 56 Comments

I have always felt guilty about riding high-end carbon bikes. That’s because I rode handmade steel ones from 1982 until mid-2009, and the mystique of a lugged frame has never gone away. There is something mythical and appealing about the lone frame builder dedicated to his craft, perfecting his technique over decades as he builds each frame by hand.

One. By. One.

It’s this imagery that comports so well with cycling, which is essentially a solo experience. Moreover, the craft bike revival of the past decade has proven that you can race on a modern steel bike and the only limiter will be your legs and your smarts.

And for non-racing applications? A steel bike brings to the table durability and comfort that very few high-end carbon bikes have achieved.

Still, I ride a nice carbon bike, a Giant TCR in fact. It handles better and is stiffer than any bike I’ve ever ridden, and it is without question as comfortable — more comfortable? — than any of the lugged bikes I used to own. So why the guilt?

As with most things, it has to do with stereotypes, in this case the old canard about Asian mass manufacturing and how Asians, whatever their skill at making things in large numbers, could never equal the quality of the European or American craftsman.

I remember as a young kid in Houston how Toyotas and Hondas were derided as “rice rockets,” among other much nastier epithets. The Japanese might be able to make a cheap car, but they’d never make one as good as a Chrysler.

Same thing for cameras. Sure, Canon and Nikon were cheaper than Leica, but we all knew which one was the real camera: it was the one made by white people.

Much of that racial baggage has adhered naturally to carbon frames made in China and Taiwan. “They’re mass produced in China,” the purists have always sneered, as if that combination — mass production and China — by itself defined the thing as flimsy and inferior. We’ll forget for the moment all of those iPhones made in China, which are somehow different. They’re made in China but their “heart and soul” is American, made by a great American, Steve Jobs, who was actually of Syrian extraction. But that’s a different story.

More to the point, mega-bike companies like Cannondale and Specialized go out of their way to obfuscate that their bikes are mass produced in Asia and that the Toray carbon fiber used for every single one of their high-end bikes is produced in Japan.

No bike marketing campaign I’m aware of has ever put, front and center, HANDMADE IN TAIWAN BY TAIWANESE ASSEMBLY LINE WORKERS. Why not? Because the image of inferiority is overwhelming. MADE IN ITALY BY ITALIAN CRAFTSMEN? I’ll take a dozen please.

The closest to being open about its Asian roots is perhaps Giant. Unlike Specialized and Cannondale, American companies who used to make bikes in the USA, only later outsourcing their manufacturing to Asia, Giant is and has always been a Taiwanese company. And although Specialized and Cannondale hammer away at the European and American imagery of their company even though the product is almost 100% made in Asia, Giant has recently placed more emphasis on its Asian provenance.

Still, the bad rap lingers in the air, and it is infectious. You could have a really nice handmade American bike, or you could get one of those mass-produced Asian carbon things. If you’re like me, you will probably still get the Asian rig, but if you started riding bikes “back in the day,” in your heart of hearts you’d probably rather ride a lugged Gianni Motta, a Bottecchia, a Masi, an Eddy Merckx.

One day I was sitting on the bricks at the Center of the Known Universe and a nice fellow came up to me with a clipboard. He was doing a survey for the government of Taiwan, and did I have a few minutes?

“Minutes,” I said, “are all I do have.”

We started on the survey. Was I aware of any Taiwanese products? Did I own any? What did I think of them? What was the image I had of thingS that are made in Taiwan? How did I feel when I saw the phrase “Made in Taiwan”? If I had a positive experience with Taiwanese products, why did I think that “Made in Taiwan” wasn’t prominently displayed or used as a marketing tool in the same way that “Made in Germany” often is? Etc.

After thinking about it for a few days, I concluded that a lot of the problem, aside from the racial assumptions that Chinese/Taiwanese were people who only made cheap crap, I honed in on the phrase “mass produced.”

There’s something about “mass produced” that doesn’t feel as homey and quality as that imagery of the lone craftsman in his workshop, patiently lugging a steel frame amidst a shower of sparks and fire.

So I wondered why it was that Giant’s TCR frame was equal to those crafted bikes in some ways and superior to them in others. What was it about mass production that was superior to what we all know to be true — that when it comes to bike frames, no assembly line can replicate the experience and skill of someone who has become a master frame builder.

The answer lay with Giant. I was surprised to learn that they never describe their high end road bikes as mass produced, and it’s not for marketing purposes. The bikes are simply not mass produced, nor are they produced on an assembly line, if your idea of an assembly line is one where most of the work is done by machines, and the people only stand there to make small adjustments/additions, or to perform minute actions that machines can’t (yet) replicate. (Think Willy Wonka’s father’s job screwing on toothpaste caps.)

The Giant TCR is made on an assembly in this key respect, however: the bike is made in stages and moves along, not a line, but a production facility. What’s special about the bike is that almost all of it is made by hand. The handwork is broken down into components, but by the time a TCR is completed it has been touched by no less than 48 pairs of hands.

These hands aren’t screwing on toothpaste caps, either. They are highly technical craftsmen and craftswomen who are expert at conforming a hard-to-work material to complex and challenging designs. It’s different from the lone frame builder concept of handmade, but it’s handmade through and through, and it’s done by people who have to constantly exercise skill, judgment, and experience as they construct the frame.

In other words, they aren’t widgets.

When I learned about the way my high-end bike was built, it made me feel better about owning it, and it made me admire and respect the skill that went into its construction. It also helped explain why the thing was so damned good: It was the product of numerous craftsmen and craftswomen bringing to bear their lifetime of experience in making the bike. Would I still like to own a lugged steel bike?

Of course. Who wouldn’t?

Tech review: Garmin 1000

April 9, 2014 § 15 Comments

Cycling in the South Bay was privileged to receive a pre-release version of the new Garmin 1000, an addition to your arsenal of cycling equipment that is guaranteed to change the way you ride.

The Edge 1000® will help cyclists reach their goals with advanced segment capabilities so that riders can view start/finish point alerts, lose weight without going on painful diets, race themselves or the segment leader, and plan routes using the new “Beer Finder” segment function.

The Edge 1000 also offers instant uploads to social media, live tracking, on-the-go upload and download of data from Garmin Connect™, and advanced bike-specific navigation and mapping capabilities. The social media function comes with real-time Strava emoticons that display “You’re weak!”, “Baaaad-aaaasss!”, and “Nyahh-nyahh-nyah-nyah-nyaaaaaaahhh.”

“Exciting new features include a 12″ x 12″, 6-lb. high-resolution color touch screen display, advanced smartphone connectivity that allows riders to chat on the phone while riding, studio-quality headphones to screen out troublesome traffic sounds and irksome advice from the local knowitall, and challenging segment features that will take cyclists of any ability to the next level,” said Dan Bartel, Garmin vice president of worldwide sales. “The minute your ‘best effort’ fails to crack the top ten of any particular leaderboard, the Edge 1000 will automatically search for a leaderboard in which your time is in the top ten, and if there are none, will create a new category just for you. Let’s say your name is Bill Jones and your fifteen-minute best effort up a local climb puts you at, say, #1,879 on the leaderboard for a healthy, 35-year-old-man. The new Garmin 1000 will create a new category for 35-year-old men born under a certain sign whose last name is Jones. Boom. Top ten every time.”

Stay Connected

Most exciting is the new Edge 1000’s ability to monitor the pulse of the outside world with incoming calls and text message alerts, as well as the feature most experts regard as the killer app function of the device. The AwesomeSauce function allows friends and family to follow races and training activities in real time. Says Bartel: “Intensive research showed that fewer and fewer people ride bikes to get away from it all, but rather to show their awesomeness to the world. Nothing shows you’re awesome more than the ability to respond to a half-dozen text messages while grinding out a gnarly interval.

“Same goes for letting friends and family follow your races and training activities,” Bartel continued. “In the old days — I’m talking pre-2010 here — most people rode for what focus groups kept calling ‘inner satisfaction.’ But our marketing department realized that what happens inside you can’t really be marketed, so we took that innate desire of cyclists to preen and navel-gaze, and turned it into something that would allow spouses and jealous girlfriends to find out what you’re doing every second of the day. With our proprietary ‘Arousal Alert’ and the PBF attachment strap (sold separately) the new Edge 1000 can also measure how attracted you are to the cyclists around you, which is cool, too. It also has a GrindR interface.”

Garmin’s R&D Department has surely hit one out of the park by allowing friends and family to follow riding activities in real time. According to Bartel, “Demographically we were seeing a lot of failed marriages and ruined relationships because the athlete would yak forever about his latest big accomplishment. With this feature, the stay-at-home mom or dad can be forced to follow the workout, then over dinner when the rider brags about dropping her nemesis, that bitchy little upstart who’s been taking all her KOM’s, the browbeaten househusband will be able to instantly pick up the conversation by saying something like, ‘Oh, I saw today where you were killing it on the Festersore Liquorstore segment. That li’l bitch will never get that one from you.’ We’re hoping to strike a blow for relational stability with this app.”

Integration with bicycle

This revolutionary computer also allows instant and easy data uploads through the Edge 1000’s Bluetooth® Smart wireless and Wi-Fi® capabilities. “Used to be, after a hard ride you’d stop at a coffee shop or a bar and talk about the ride. What matters now, however, is speed of upload, because even though you were the slowest in your group, by uploading first you can still get one of those coveted little Strava crowns. Talk and friendship is really overrated anyway,” added Bartel.

Like the Edge Touring, Edge 1000 comes with preloaded maps and points of interest, including parks and trails, emergency rooms, orthopedic surgeons, chiropractors, and brewpubs to help cyclists find their way. Working like a GPS navigator for a car with bike-specific features, Edge 1000 turns even the easiest outing into a navigation project similar to crossing the Straits of Magellan in winter in a rowboat. “You can’t have too much data,” says Bartel. “Wind speed, hour-by-hour weather updates, rotational speed of the earth, Jet Stream velocity, and tectonic movement in the Marianas Trench, as well as realtime Google Earth views of streets in hundred-meter segments … these are the things that make cycling fun.”

Edge 1000 is compatible with ANT+™ sensors, NEWT+™ sensors, COELENTERATE+™ sensors, and ECOLI+™ sensors, including heart rate, speed, cadence, body weight, BMI, cholesterol count, and sensors that remind you to floss. Edge 1000 is also compatible with the new Edge RuggedMaxx, a compact and lightweight remote control that allows riders to easily control Edge without removing their hands from the handlebar, or, frankly, without knowing shit from Shinola as regards cycling. Compatible with Shimano Di2 electronic shifting systems, it can display current gear on the screen and is also compatible with ANT+ power meters including Vector™, Garmin’s unique pedal-based power meter that measures total power, left/right balance and cadence. There is little doubt that this new cycling computer will bring a level of expense and complexity to your “hobby” that no other add-on can bring for the low, low price of $699.99.

Never one to sit on past success, Garmin is already working on a newer, improved version. According to Bartel, “The next iteration will have a bicycle attachment that you can actually pedal.”

END.

SPY-Giant-RIDE training camp and beer sampling contest

January 12, 2014 § 16 Comments

I had really been looking forward to the weekend, that’s what I told myself as the whole fucking peloton exploded into wobbling, weaving fragments on the lower part of the Tramway climb, only I didn’t know it was the lower part because I’d never been there before or watched the finale of the Tour of California stage because if I had I would have known that the yellow sign and the modest bump-top I was sprinting for, far from being the top, was four miles from the top, and what was already the most miserable mile I’d ever spent on a bike was about to be most hellish five miles, not just one.

The leaders numbered about fifteen and I could count them, as they were plotted out in high relief against the ugly, featureless desert shitscape that spilled out like bad barf on either side of the roadway. The flailers numbered about sixty, riders who had, like me, thought they were coming to Palm Springs for a fun team bonding training camp, only to find out that as soon as they’d picked up their swag and put on their fancy kits that some sadist had planned the most miserable of afternoons for them in the high desert hell.

Slowly I moved up, latching onto the wheels of the decaying riders who, like me, were coming apart at the seams, but unlike me were coming apart slightly faster. My signature pant-gasp-hack-cough got into their heads along with the depressing reality that flashed across their minds as I sat on their wheels: “If Wankmeister has caught me and can hold my wheel, my fucking season is over. It’s like being caught by an obese child with short legs, only worse.” One by one they pounded as hard as they could, desperately trying to shake the stigma of having me ride them down, then pulled over in defeat as I soldiered on. This terribly painful, wholly unrewarding, ego-crushing climb ended with only a handful of the very best riders ahead of me. I calculated eighth place out of about seventy-five riders, with Chris Johnson, Brian Stack, John Abate, Paul Vaccari, Logan Fiedler, Dave Jaeger, and Taylor Vaccardi ahead of me.

This, of course, was a result so far beyond anything I could have ever imagined that it almost made up for the misery of the climb and the terror of the 60-mph downhill. When we all reconvened at the hotel, the consensus was general: On the very first ride of the very first day of training camp we had all destroyed ourselves so completely that we would spend the next two days sucking our thumbs, curled up in bed popping Advil and wishing we could go home.

What is a training camp?

I wondered this the sleepless night before our Spy-Giant-RIDE Second Annual Training Camp of General Awesomeness and Beer. There didn’t seem to be any tents, sleeping bags, or highjinks with the girl campers on the itinerary, so it clearly wasn’t a camp. And after wrecking all of our legs on Day One (various riders were so destroyed by the dry air and brutal climb that the following day they tucked tail 30 miles into the ride and slinked back to the hotel bar rather than complete the 103-mile death march across the desert), I couldn’t really figure out what it was we were training for, except perhaps for a graveside service.

Mrs. WM and I had in fact begun the whole thing in high spirits. We stopped in San Bernardino on the way out to get gas after the typical husband-wife car conversation, which began like this. “I gotta pee.”

“You’re fuggin’ kidding me. We’ve been in the car less than an hour.”

“I don’ care I gotta pee.”

“You can’t have to pee. There’s no way you have generated enough pee. You’ve drunk nothing. You can’t have to pee.”

“I gotta pee so let’s stop onna pee stop now.”

A few minutes later we were at a gas station. She came back to the car. “Can I get onna magazine?”

“Sure.” This was odd, because in 26 years of marriage she had read, maybe, four magazines. She returned to the car, smiling, with a copy of Cosmo. “What did you get that for? Don’t tell me you’re reading Cosmo for fashion advice?”

“It had onna cover story called ‘Fantasy Sex.'”

There was a brief silence as I calculated the possibilities. Team training camp was starting to look good.

Swag me!

When we arrived at the Westin Mission Hills Resort and Golf Nirvana our awesome team bosses greeted us with an assembly line of kits, caps, eyewear, and t-shirts. It was brain numbing to think that we, a worthless bunch of prostate-challenged wannabes were being showered with so much pro stuff. Our kits came in plastic bags with our names on them, and the kits themselves had our names on the side panels of the jerseys. We gazed in wonder, not simply at the awesomeness of it, but at the realization that all the other teams would be purple with envy when they saw our rad personalized clothing. Henceforth the pro masters SoCal masters cycling circuit would, unquestionably, be demanding personalized kits even as they gnawed their livers at not having thought of it first.

After returning from our horrific Day One training ride, I realized many things, and chief among them was this: Just because I have a fancy kit doesn’t mean I’m any good. This was really depressing, as I’d been hoping, deep down, that by wearing the nicest kit I would somehow be a better rider.

SPY had reserved a giant room with a bar, restaurant, and conference area for the afternoon presentations. We began with the most important one, from SPY Optic, called “Why You Are Here.” This was important because from the moment we were showered with swag and set up for the amazing weekend, each of us wondered the same thing: “What’s a wanker like me doing to deserve all this?”

To the relief of many, the answer was NOT “Go forth and win bike races.”

Instead, the answer was something entirely different. It was, “Go forth and live a good life, and a happy one. If you win bike races as a result, good for you. If you win nothing at all, you’ve still won everything possible.” In shorthand that every bike racer can understand, we were treated to the SPY motto, “HTFU.” Yeah. Happy the Fuck Up.

A few of the new recruits may have been puzzled, but I wasn’t. Anyone who thinks that winning bike races, or winning any kind of race, is the key to a good life well lived, hasn’t read the fine print that comes Life. Crushing the souls of your competitors, or marking up their FB wall with boasts about how you’ll destroy their hopes in the Aged People With Prostate Issues Category is important, and fun, and, perhaps, fulfilling in some strange way. But the key to getting your foot onto the next stepping stone in life isn’t “winning.” It’s being the kind of person who is kind, and it’s happily accepting happiness as a completely self-fulfilling way of doing the journey.

Of course none of us bought that bullshit for even a nanosecond, and all we could think about was training harder, racing smarter, and beating the snot out of the guys and women we race against, hopefully humiliating them in front of their small children, but at a minimum making fun of them for cherry-picking crits and avoiding anything with a hill in it.

How the team was fitted

The next morning we staggered into breakfast, inhaled everything on the buffet line, and sat down to a presentation from Harmony Bars, a San Diego company that makes what is unquestionably the tastiest in-your-jersey-pocket-treat ever created. However, no one in the room was able to concentrate on the caloric and nutritive aspects of the presentation, since it was being done by Jess Cerra in a pair of mesh white tights. We had all spent the previous day having Jess ride us off our her wheel on the Tramway climb, not terribly different from the times she had ridden us off her wheel on the Swami’s Ride, on the SPY Holiday Ride, on the Belgian Waffle Ride, or, frankly, every other ride we’d ever accompanied her on.

Jess’s strength and unrelenting power on the bike, and her unparalleled ability to litter the roadside with smashed male egos, was equaled only by her presentation in the white tights. Every man in the room died a little bit that day, heaping jealousy and hatred on the shoulders of John Abate as we watchd, er, listened, to Jess’s presentation. The Harmony Bar story can be summed up thus: This shit tastes good, is locally made, and was designed by people who crush on the bike. Okay?

Next we heard from our StageOne sponsors, the dudes who designed and manufactured our kits. Joe Yule and Jon Davy had a glazed look in their eyes, and it was clear they’d put together their presentation after a detailed sketch on the back of a napkin. Davy’s every third word was “Uh,” and with good reason: StageOne had designed, manufactured, delivered, bagged, and tagged the entire team kit in less than ninety days. This had involved multiple designs and product tests, trips to the manufacturing plant in Holland, and an eye for detail and execution that no one but Davy could have ever delivered. Joe Yule’s lifelong mission to beautify the highways of California had come, yet again, to fruition, as our SPY-Giant-RIDE kit was so beautiful that grown men wept while taking selfies of themselves in the mirror and posting them to their mothers’ FB pages.

To make matters more intense, StageOne replaces SPY-Giant-RIDE’s previous kit manufacturer Squadra, and riders are nothing if not bitchy little pricks about their kits. Whatever concerns people had about leaving the top-line kits of Squadra for the as-yet-untried-new-kids-on-the-block-StageOne were dispelled after our first team pedal. Sporting innovations that include a zipper garage, back grippers on the jersey, and farmer-john straps for comfort when you’re not wearing a base layer, the StageOne design and production received rave reviews, which is good, because if anyone had dared complain they’d have had a 210-lb. Jon Davy to deal with.

Following the StageOne presentation we heard from Giant, our bike sponsor. I wish I could explain to you in detail why the new Giant Propel is the most awesome bike since someone decided to make a bicycle with a chain … but I can’t. The Giant presentation explained lots of details about the Propel and about the concept of aero road frames and about how it improved on what most already considered the most perfect bike ever made, the Giant TCR, but it was all in one ear and out the other for me as I was still stuck on the Harmony Bars and the white tights. One of the problems that Giant has with its bikes is that each new model improves on an already incredible model, and the people like me who are completely in love with the current model can’t imagine something better than what they’ve already got. But the situation appears pretty simple, in that the Propel will propel you faster.

Let my people go

Once the presentations finished we saddled up for a leisurely 103-mile ride in the desert. It was going to be a friendly, two-by-two affair until we hit a nasty sidewind going up a long grade and the young punks turned on the gas and shredded the field. Suddenly our 75-person peloton was split into multiple groups of desperately pedaling flailers who broke up into echelons as they tried to avoid getting further behind. The young punks pulled away as I sat back in the second group watching the end of the day happen at about mile twenty, because there was no way the leaders were coming back. As we toiled into the most miserable of howling sidewinds, the guy in front of me exploded into pieces and I lunged ahead in a last-ditch effort to bridge.

Leaving entrails, my soul, and copious quantities of spit and snot on the road, I somehow made it across. The only rider to go with me was, of course, Jess, who then went straight to the front and took a pull even as I hung on the back and prayed for a land mine. Happily, Andy Schmidt flatted at Dillon Road and we all stopped, giving the broken, dropped, crushed, and defeated remainder of the group time to catch up to us. People looked so ill and sad and sick and unhappy that it was clear to me the training camp was a total success.

For the remainder of the ride we rotated, hammer-tated, flail-tated, and generally gasped our way back to the hotel. Massive beerdration ensued for those of us who had not had enough water, and after an even more massive pizza feast we sat down and listened to another slew of evening presentations. The one that impressed me the most was MRI Endurance, our team’s presenting sponsor who is a manufacturer of training supplements. They impressed me not because of the presentation — I was too drunk to understand any of it and kept falling asleep on F-1 Jim’s shoulder, awakening only to wipe off the drool — but because of the following day when MRI handed out the team product.

Have you ever seen a shark feeding frenzy? People were practically gnawing each others’ arms off to get their share of the special supplements. Eyes were gouged, crotches were kneed, and medullas were rabbit-punched in the melee. Judging from the enthusiasm of the riders, this stuff works wonders.

Ending on a high note

On Sunday morning, we were so trashed from the beer, the riding, and the presentations of the night before that a few shameless wankers left early (after collecting all their swag, of course). Those who stuck around got to enjoy yet another morning of great food, camaraderie, and a series of excellent presentations from Skins, RIDE Cyclery, SRAM/Zipp, Lake cycling shoes, Razer keyboards & mice, and Clearwater Partners. Skins provided a detailed scientific review of the benefits of their full line of compression gear, but Mrs. WM had only one question: “If you compress onna chin-chin, it’s gonna make it bigger?”

I didn’t know what to say, or even what product to order. The compression tube sock, maybe, in size XXXXS?

The other sponsors helped us better understand the benefits of working with an awesome local bike shop, of racing on SRAM components and ZIPP wheels, of using Lake shoes and the Boa locking system, and of investing all of our money with Clearwater so we can retire early and race our bikes full time like true SoCal masters professionals.

We took a fine group picture  and called it a day. My 2014 season is officially a success, thanks to the excellent job I did riding around the resort looking splendid in my new outfit and (barely) beating Jess up the Tramway climb. Looking forward to lots of great racing in 2015.

A little slice of nice

December 14, 2013 § 17 Comments

The whole Specialized – Cafe Roubaix brouhaha has ended. Mike Sinyard, the president of Specialized, flew up to Canada and apologized to Dan Richter, the owner of the bike shop, which is located in Cochrane, Alberta. ASI, the company that owns the worldwide “Roubaix” trademark, stepped in and told the shop owner that they would be glad to license the word to Richter for a very small fee.

Everybody shook hands and went home, except for Richter, who was presumably already home. I looked up Cochrane on Google Maps and confirmed what I’d assumed. Cochrane, on the outskirts of Calgary, is out in the middle of nowhere, about 450 miles from the huge U.S. city of … Missoula. It sure seemed like a lot of legal fees in order to crack down on Mr. Tinyshop.

In a sport that has a tough time stepping away from bad news, though, this vignette is a great example of what makes the bicycle industry less of an industry and more of a community. With annual sales in the neighborhood of $500 million in a market that in is estimated to be worth over $70 billion by 2015, Specialized, despite its relative market dominance, is a very, very small part of the community.

Specialized may represent the big corporate side of cycling, but in the global scheme of corporate entities it’s little more than a local bike shop on a very conservative steroid program.

Quick to blame, slow to thank

The rank-and-file bicycling community used Facebook and Twitter and email to send Specialized a message. The simple message was that bicycling remains a community that functions on the efforts of small shops. Sinyard got the message. The Internet, however much it may have taken a bite out of shop sales, has also contributed to more people riding more complicated machinery that requires, yes, a bike shop to repair and tune and ultimately replace what you bought online. Very few riders don’t have a bike shop to which they feel loyalty, and that loyalty is almost without exception the result of a good personal relationship they have with a real person behind the counter.

How many people can say that about their other shopping choices?

“I go to Wal-Mart because I love Fred, the greeter who’s there on Thursday mornings between six and ten.” It’s kind of hard to imagine.

Sinyard and Specialized got the message, and they acted with extraordinary swiftness. When’s the last time the CEO of IBM or Microsoft or Apple got on a plane to make a video and personally apologize for sending out a cease and desist letter?

We can criticize the steps that led to Specialized leaning hard on Cafe Roubaix, and we did. Can we also step back and thank Sinyard & Company for doing the right thing? I’m pretty sure we can.

I’ve ridden two Specialized bikes, the SL3 and the Venge. They were both extraordinarily good bikes. I bought them from PV Bikes, a Specialized store before the owner died, and the service I got at that shop was phenomenal. One of the biggest supporters of cycling and racing in Southern California is the Surf City Cyclery in Costa Mesa, run by Mike Faello. Mike and his team, with the full support of Specialized, put one of the very best faces on cycling in one of the country’s biggest markets.

Sinyard’s decision reflects well on himself, on his company, and on people like Mike who sell his Specialized bikes.

Thanks, Mr. Sinyard. Next time you’re in LA join us on the NPR and I’ll be honored to buy you a coffee, even though I plan to keep riding my Giant.

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