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.

The eyes have it

November 16, 2013 § 8 Comments

In a month and a half we’ll begin our third season of the SPY bicycling team. Lots of people wonder what it’s like to be an old creaky fellow with a leaky prostate and bad vision while riding for the premier old fellows racing team in California and therefore the galaxy. I’d sum it up like this:

Riding for SPY is fun.

In the first two years we  saw that there were other teams with better racers. We’ve never had the fastest  racers on our squad, but despite that our 45+ team was the winningest one in SoCal, our cyclocross masters teams are hands down the best, and our 35+ team, P/1/2 team and development riders mean that each year more and more people want to ride with us. Add into the mix that our women’s team, led by Jessica Cerra, is already primed to have a super year, and I think the reasons that people want to join the SPY cavalcade are simple : Swag and fun.

When you’re an old fellow, if you have any perspective at all, you realize that if your hobby is best measured in wins and losses, it’s probably no longer a hobby and has become what the rest of the world calls a “job.” You realize that as much as you’d like to win, even more than that you’d like to compete — and win — with people you actually like, doing things you actually enjoy, decked out in swag that makes you feel like you’re winning even when you place 78th.

SPY’s ethos is best described as having a happy disrespect for the usual way of looking at life. Put another way, “Beware of the usual!”

Living up to our mandate

We’re not told to go forth and win races, although we’re given plenty of leadership and racing and training opportunities to do so. What we are told is that once we put on the kit, we’re ambassadors for a brand. Not sales staff, or preachers, group thinkniks, but ambassadors, people who are here to deliver a message.

What message? This message.

1. Ride the front as much as you can on group rides, wherever you may train. Be a leader. Why? Because the usual way of doing things is to hide in the pack and show your face, if at all, at the coffee shop. The usual way of doing things is to use the work of others in order to benefit yourself. The unusual and irreverent way of doing things is to put your share of work into the group effort, and maybe even a little bit more than your share. If you’re too afraid of getting dropped or of not making the split, bite the bullet and … go to the front.

2. Take care of one another, and take care of others. The usual way of doing things is to only stop when you’re the one with the mechanical. This is your Sunday ride, right? You’ve waited all week for this, right? So if someone has a flat, well, that’s bike racing. The unusual and irreverent way of doing things is to recognize that there will be another Tuesday morning ride, and it’s probably not gonna kill you to help out a fellow cyclist. You’ll make a friend, you’ll energize the person you help to pass on the good karma, and you’ll go from being “all about me” to “serving others.”

3. Represent SPY and its team sponsors in the same way that you’d want them to represent YOU. Success doesn’t mean a podium in an old fellows criterium. Success is the sum of a life predicated on our collective good deeds, leadership, and the vicious clubbing of baby seals (to whom we apologize in advance and posthumously).

4. As a bike racer, or more accurately, as an elderly fellow drowning in a delusional vat of swag and beer and navel gazing, when you race your victory isn’t what matter. What matters are  your actions and how they affect your team. What matters is whether you were ready to toil in anonymity and lay it all out there for the sake of a teammate.

5. Make people HAPPY. Collective groupings of old people racing bicycles isn’t a formula for happiness. Smiling and spreading positive energy is. So go forth and happify. Now.

From the touchy-feely to the hard facts

You probably expect me to praise SPY for all the usual reasons, but what are those “usual” reasons? And aren’t we supposed to beware of the usual? Rather, my affinity for the company, begun through personal friendship and swag, has transcended those two things to reach a level of discrimination I never thought I’d reach.

Because you see, I don’t really give a rat’s ass about bike products. Of course I love nice stuff when I can get it, but I’m not now and have never been a “bike guy.” I have one road bike and one ‘cross bike. One extra wheelset for the ‘cross bike. My road hoops are the same ones I train on and race on. For me, it’s always been about being lucky enough to cycle and to be part of a cycling community. The bike and the clothes and the parts are icing on the cake.

Of course, there’s one exception to that, and it’s the unusual exception of my eyes. I began wearing glasses at age 13, bout six or seven years after I first really needed them. My vision was so bad that I could only see movies from the front row. I’m still convinced that much of my early problems in school stemmed from an inability to see the chalkboard.

Having terrible vision has affected me throughout my life. I never learned to surf above kook level despite decades of trying. Why? Because I’m horribly uncoordinated and weak. But being unable to see the wave until it was breaking on my head didn’t help. Ball sports were always impossible, and even though I could see on a bike, my eyes were constantly irritated from the wind that incessantly screamed around the edges of my Laurent Fignon frames. Wearing superb prescription eyewear from SPY enabled me to win the Tour in 2011 and was directly responsible for the winning Powerball ticket that I bought down at the corner 7-11.

In actuality, my vision transformation on the bike thanks to SPY wasn’t accidental or the result of lottery-like luck. This eyewear is authentically bound to technical performance. The prescription glasses work in an incredibly demanding range of light and weather situations, including getting bounced on my head at 40 mph and remaining intact (the glasses, not the head).

This authenticity is so much more than, “The glasses work, dude.” It’s part of the background of the product, where and why it came into being, and what drives its evolution and subsequent iterations. Plus, SPY has never sponsored Lance.

The combination of “ride at the front” and “this shit works” forms the core of the proposition when you’re thinking about buying glasses. Do you want a product made by non-cyclists for cyclists and owned by a giant Italian conglomerate that also handles leather handbags, or do you want a product that’s made by cyclists who have to live with the shit they create, and who have to answer to the product’s utility in their own races and group rides?

Putting glasses on your nose … who knew it was so complicated? Well, it is, because when you wear SPY you’re choosing between Italian luxuory monolith or a variation on ZZ Topp: “That Little Old Performance Eyewear Company from Carlsbad.” Do things like happiness, irreverence, riding at the front, helping those who need it, and buying locally make a difference to you? If they do, maybe there’s something in this story for you.

The pros who ride SPY gear are chosen in order to transcend their stereotypes as “jocks” and tap into a multicultural lifestyle based on a love of outdoors activities. Us grizzled old dudes with leaky prostates believe in that transcendence, too.

Coming unglued

September 29, 2013 § 21 Comments

I was charging up the narrow track, taking what Manslaughter later called “an aggressive line,” when the bike spun out, fishtailed, and stopped. Figuring I had run out of legs due to the severity of the pitch, I jumped off and started to push. The rear wheel wouldn’t spin.

I looked down and saw the reason. The rear tubular had come off the rim. I looked more closely as I reseated the tire and saw that the rim, which was new, had very little glue on it.

“I’m done for today,” I shouted up to Manslaughter, pushing the bike up the trail to where he waited, simultaneously pissed at ending the ride early and euphoric that it hadn’t happened going downhill.

Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes

I’d bought the wheels about a month ago, my first tubular rims since 2008, when I had sworn off them for good. Despite having ridden nothing but tubulars for almost thirty years, when I traded in my steel bike for a plastic frame, the new Specialized had come with Zipp clincher 404’s. I still remember talking to the sales guy.

“I’m not sure about clinchers,” I said.

“Dude, everyone uses clinchers. Tubulars have been dead for twenty years. No one even stocks them. They cost $80 each. They are a huge pain to glue on. No one has a spare if you get two flats in one ride.”

“Yeah, but I kind of like them … “

“It’s not ‘back in the day’ anymore. Time rolls on. The new clinchers are just as good as tubies, and in some cases better. And they’re cheaper. And they last forever.”

He had me at “cheaper,” and I think he knew it. “I suppose it’s time to ditch the whole tubular thing and move into the new century,” I reasoned, for no good reason.

When the first big clincher revolution came about in the late 1980’s, I had continued using sew-ups only because I didn’t know how to change a flat. It was easier to glue on tubulars, ride with an extra 15-lb. sew-up, and do the infamous tubular-flat road change than it was to learn how to deal with a simple clincher inner tube.

Junkyard still reminds me of the first time he ever saw me change a clincher flat, which happened to be the first time I’d ever done it. “Never, ever, ever saw someone try to put the tube on top of the tire. That was fuckin’ amazing.”

Still, I learned, and am now pretty darned proficient at changing clincher flats. I helped Tink get her tire changed about a month ago in less than thirty minutes.

And the old shall become new again

You can imagine how pissed off I was when I realized that tubulars were back in fashion, and for cyclocross, they weren’t simply in fashion, they made the difference between 37th and 38th place due to the lower tire pressure you can run. When it became clear that I would have to race ‘cross again this year in order to avoid being assigned house chores, I nutted up and bought a cheap set of tubular rims.

“37th, here I come!” I muttered gleefully.

Of course I’d thrown away all my tubular gluing equipment, which consisted of a busted stretching rim, a couple of coat hangers, a plastic baggie, and rim cement. Rather than reassemble this pro toolkit, I then made a mistake. I asked someone to glue the tires on for me.

It’s called “non-delegable” for a reason

Some things you delegate, and the older you get that becomes pretty much everything. But three things you never delegate: Having sex with your own wife, drinking your own beer, and gluing on your own tires. And if you have to delegate any of them, you better make damn sure that it’s #1 and #2 before you delegate #3.

Tire gluing is a non-delegable duty because when it’s done badly the result is almost always a catastrophic crash. If it’s the front tire, it’s guaranteed to be a bad crash. And if you’re riding with someone else, they’re probably going down, too. For me it was stupid luck that I happened to roll it on the uphill rather than going through the fast, steep, sharp, rocky, high-speed, plunging descent a few hundred yards ahead.

When I asked the friend to glue on my tires I had known I was making a mistake, because even though someone else can have just as good sex with your wife as you can (probably better), there’s simply no way they will care as much as you do about gluing on your tires. Why is this? It’s simple. The more glue you put on the rim, the more of a hassle it is. With a big schmear of glue you have to either hang up the wheels for a few hours to let the glue harden, or you have to try and put on the tire (which itself has a nasty bead of sticky shit all around it) and risk covering everything in glue.

When I say “everything” I don’t mean the obvious — rim, tire sidewall, maybe a dollop on the spokes. When a gluing session goes south you get glue on the floor, your feet, your teeth, underneath your nails, your hair, your glasses, your hubs, your tools, your palms, and, in a complete meltdown, on the interior of the wall that you punch through screaming in frustration. The friend who is gluing on your tires, even for a fee, doesn’t love you enough to coat himself in adhesive, and he’s probably trying to save some glue for his own wheels, and he’s not about to cover his workstand in mastic.

I knew all that.

I also knew that even for someone with the mechanical aptitude of a newt, this was the one mechanical failure that is typically both catastrophic and ALWAYS YOUR FAULT. You either did a shitty job gluing on the tire, or you delegated it to someone without first making them screw your wife and drink your beer.

Settling up

So when I contacted my buddy to let him know what had happened I wasn’t surprised when he said, “Sorry.” There was nothing for me to say, because regardless of how it had happened, it was my fault.

Not having glued on a tire in several years, and never having glued on a ‘cross tire, I made a fair mess of it, slathering glue on the sidewall of one tire, and gluing on the rear tire with the tread pointing in the wrong direction. But it took two full tubes, and the next day when I hit the trail at full gas with Tumbleweed, the Gooseman, and Google Wills, I did it knowing that whatever mechanical I had, it wouldn’t be a rolled tire.

And it wasn’t.

Interbike 2013 product review

September 25, 2013 § 22 Comments

Interbike this year was awesome beyond words. The prostitutes looked even younger than they did last year, the liquor was just as strong, and the products on display were mind-blowing. Next year I might even go. Here’s a recap of some the show’s highlights, in case you stayed home due to work, fears of STD’s, etc.

  1. Jaw-based power meter by S-WANK: Unlike traditional power meters, which read output at the crank, hub, or pedal spindle, the “Powerwanker” reads wattage at the place where cyclist generate the most power — their ever-yakking mandibles. According to Sven Svenson, the next generation of the “Powerwanker” will read wattage at the cyclist’s second-greatest output source. “His finger when he’s all a-typin’ on the Twitter and blogger forum crap.” Suggested retail price: $3,999.99.
  2. Rope-a-Dope home drug testing kit: Brought on largely by the growing SoCal masters racing scene, this handy-dandy home drug kit can tell you just how much more EPO, testosterone, tainted beef, or volcano dope you can ingest before you test positive and aren’t allowed to win any more Clif bars. A supplemental “Rage  Gauge” allows simultaneous testing of your violent, steroid-induced mood swings, allowing you to know when you’re more likely to beat up a competitor or kick your dog. Suggested retail price: $289.00 for the kit, testing refills @ $4.99 each.
  3. Krispy Kreme nutritional bar:  Made out of pure butter, flour, and deep-fried in fresh canola oil, the Krispy Kreme “Healthnut” is an oval ride snack with a little hole in the middle for easy grip/fishing out of your back jersey pocket. The Healthnut contains one essential nutrient (sugar), and several nonessential ones that nonetheless taste great (butter, oil, more sugar). The Healthnut comes in four flavors: glazed, chocolate-covered, sprinkles, and old-fashioned. Suggested retail price: $1.00/ea.
  4. The Ride Excusifier: This clever app, downoaded onto your smart phone, provides a quick and appropriate response through your phone’s mic every time your significant other complains about your excessive cycling. Including old standbys like “At least I’m not a whore-hopping coke-head,” and “This new carbon rig is cheaper than heart surgery,” the folks at Stand Your Ground, Inc., have added some excuses that are sure to keep the missus (or the mister) tongue-tied long enough for you to clip in and roll out the drive. My favorites were “I promise I won’t be late again!” and “Aaaaaaaahhhh!” shouted in a suicidal wail. Suggested retail price: $4.99.
  5. Mr. Sockmeasure: How many times have you pulled out a pair of socks and discovered that they’re slightly unequal lengths because you have several identical pairs but they’ve been re-paired with socks that aren’t their “true” partner? Think of all the times this has ruined your ride or made you late as you try on all forty-two pairs to get the exact match. Well, with Mr. Sockmeasure, those days are gone! This handy sock-shaped measure, which attaches to the outside of your dryer, lets you carefully check each sock before folding. From OCD Products, Inc.: $16.99.
  6. The Ronco “Tireflopper”: How many times have you been eating shit ten miles off the back in a brutal road race with 40 miles to go, uphill, into a sandstorm, with no chance of anything except failure, but still too much pride to quit? The Tireflopper attaches to the inside of your valve stem and is voice-activated by shrieking “Oh, fuck!” or “Kill me now!” which triggers a complete release of all the air in your tire. You can then stand by the road looking faux glum and ride home in the sag wagon. (Note: must be used with the “Derailing Derailleur,” a spring-loaded mechanism that prevents any other rear wheel from fitting into the rear drop-outs. Without this, the follow car will simply change your wheel and send you on your way.) Suggested retail price: $98.99.
  7. Aaron Rents “Hand-up Bitch”: Tired of running around at the last minute trying to get some chick or dude to give you hand-ups in the middle of a 110-degree dropfest out in Bakersfield? Embarrassed by not having anyone to cheer wildly at your 37th placing in the Cat 5 crit? Aaron Rents now offers a male or female rental Hand-up Bitch who will stand out in the hot sun, give you shit that’s not going to help, and clap happily when you achieve the impressive goal of not dying. $150/hr., blowjobs extra.

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