August 19, 2014 § 11 Comments
People are so darned lonely, and it’s not hard to see why. They fart. They smell bad in the morning. They leave skid marks in their shorts and whiskers in the sink, and they forget to flush and to put the cap back on the toothpaste. And then of course they have their bad habits, too.
I have noticed many unhappy and lonely bicycle riders, and in order to help fix them up I have developed a new web site that uses the patented Wanky Automated Compatibility Testing ™, or “WACT,” pronounced “whacked.” You can find it at www.wact.com.
The web site uses a sophisticated logarithm (that’s a really thick algorithm for all you non-math majors) to match bicycling personalities so that they can find the perfect person with whom they can enjoy a happy-go-lucky coffee, casual conversation, and boning.
First, answer these questions:
- I like cycling because:
- Tight shorts
- After riding with my friends I enjoy:
- Sitting at CotKU, sipping coffee, and chatting about the ride
- Going home and reading the product write-ups on CompetitiveCyclist.com
- Comparing my Strava stats with those of my pals
- Zooming in on the FB photos of women’s crotches standing on the podium
- Cycling and craft beer go together because:
- They are both healthy and natural
- Strong beer gives you a good buzz after a hard workout
- You can enjoy local, hand-crafted beer while riding a local, handmade frame and saving the environment plus smugness
- Biker chicks at brew pubs get sloppy drunk after two DIPA’s and start rubbing their breasts against you
If you answered “E” to all of the above, or if you answered A – D while secretly thinking about E, then you should consider signing up for the Wanky Automated Compatibility Testing ™ dating site. Here’s how it works:
You input a link to your favorite Strava segment and the time that you will be on it. Then you check one of the following boxes next to your segment:
Sitting on his/her/its wheel and ogling
If another cyclists “likes” your segment and the time you’ve designated, he/she/it (usually “it”) then selects a radio button. However, he/she/it can’t see which button you’ve selected. If he/she/it/Stathis selects the same button you selected, you’ve got a “Wanky Match.” Your cell phone will then emit a high-pitched, ear-piercing sound reminiscent of someone whose toe got caught in a meat grinder, and the contact information of your “Wanky Match” will flash across the screen.
You then swipe the app and it takes you to “Steamy Wanky Revelation” where you will see all the of the juicy details about your Wanky Match, such as:
- Bathes weekly
- 110 watts FTP
- Favorite pastime: WKO+ Training Peaks
- Divorced (5 times)
- Employed (once, in 1987)
- Loves romantic evenings with that special someone in an oxygen tent
- Favorite place: Mom’s basement
[Note: These are merely sample personal details of your Wanky Match. Actual personal characteristics and hygiene will be gnarlier.]
Unlike other dating sites, with Wanky Automated Compatibility Testing ™, you only pay when you get on your partner’s “leader board.” If you help your member reach the summit in record time, he/she/it/Stathis will award you a KOM which then goes in your Wanky Match profile. The more KOM’s, the more confidence you have that your Wanky Match knows how to pound out the watts.
Due to the early developmental phase of the project, interested participants are asked to send an email to the project director, Mr. Divad Zerep, email@example.com. Please include a valid credit card number with expiration date and CVV, as well as your Social Security Number, DOB, and a house key.
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August 18, 2014 § 22 Comments
The most important part of your season comes now: After your season.
If you have been following the Wanky Training Plan ™ since January, you will have a solid season of results to carefully review. Your performance in each race will provide key insights into aspects of your racing that need improvement, as well as those aspects in which you have excelled, and will therefore seek to replicate next year.
The most crucial aspect of the Wanky Training Plan ™, and the one that has likely been hardest for you to implement, has of course been the high cadence pedaling style. If you stuck with it, you have likely seen a revolution in your performance as you have metamorphosed from a plodding clogstacle into a graceful, speedy, gazelle.
To help you properly review your season, I’ve selected some of my best results from 2014 so that you can see how a proper evaluation will lead to analysis of strengths and weaknesses for 2015.
Boulevard Road Race: The season began with a powerful and impressive DNF, in which all of the successful strength and high rpm-training exercises in the off season came to fruition. Although I did not actually finish the race, I got to test several electrolyte replacement fluids for ease of digestion and ease of puking them back out on the climb.
Red Trolley Crit: My first crit of the year featured a strong moral victory in which I went to the front and spun very hard. Although I did not actually finish the race, the key objective of not falling off my bicycle was achieved 100%.
UCLA Road Race: This was a super hard race and marked the first time in 2014 that I finished a race, so it was actually considered a first-place finish (by me) even though the technical placing was 29th. Out of 30. By spinning very quickly I was able to not over-tire myself, meeting another key objective, i.e. looking good on the finish line.
CBR Race #2: In my second crit of 2014, I achieved an impressive finish by finishing. Spinning played a key role in my ability to achieve 26th place out of 37 racers, a massive improvement of three placing from the week before. Simple math showed that in a mere eight more races I would mathematically be guaranteed to finish in first place.
Chuck Pontius Road Race: This was a blustery and challenging race where all aspects of the Wanky Training Plan ™ were utilized, including the refusal to cry. It also showed how continual spinning and recovery can lead to amazing results. I earned an impressive top ten finish, finishing 10th place out of ten finishes and 13 starters. Good things were clearly just around the bend as I was now peaking.
San Dimas Stage Race: Putting together all the pieces of a complex, 3-day stage race, I spun my way to 31st in the time trial, 39th in the road race, and 37th in the crit for an overall GC of 38th. This devastated the two racers who came in 39th and 40th, respectively, and showed that high cadence racing allows you to conserve until the end.
It was at this point in the season that things really came together — 22nd in the LA Circuit Race, 28th at the District Championships (29th place is still sobbing over his bitter defeat), and 146th at the Belgian Waffle Ride made this unquestionably the strongest spring campaign I’ve had in 30+ years of bike racing. But the best was yet to come.
Although I did not finish either Saturday or Sunday of the 805 Crit Series, we successfully rented a motor home and did not drive it off a cliff or get arrested. Thanks, Wanky Training Plan ™!
August 15, 2014 § 35 Comments
Word on the street is that USA Cycling has become very concerned about the precipitous drop-off in the number of idiots who participate in masters racing, and they are going to convene some kind of meeting to identify the problems and propose solutions.
That’s too bad. They should have just called me. But since they didn’t, I’ve written this very helpful little post to guide them on their way.
First, let’s understand the landscape of masters racing: It is dead and, like T-rex, is never coming back. Rather, it is laying in a big heap and decomposing while those who can stand the stench still saddle up and pedal around the rotting corpse.
What killed masters racing?
- De-innovation. The only difference between bike racing today and bike racing in 1984 is … nothing. Imagine a business model that is the same today, with the identical approach to the customer, service, product, and cost, as it was in 1984. There’s a way to spell the name of companies like that: “b-a-n-k-r-u-p-t.”
- Taxation. While the promoters’ and riders’ costs rose, USA Cycling continued to take larger and larger pieces of the pie. That USA Cycling officials are paid even a penny is a sorry joke. They should volunteer and do it for the love of the sport or get the hell out. Oh, wait a minute … what love of the sport? Many of them don’t even ride.
- Cost. In 1984 you could race the best equipment for the equivalent of about $4,000 in 2014 dollars — including kit, shoes, spare wheels, and a bike that was essentially unbreakable, with wheels that were likewise difficult to damage. A top race bike now retails for about $9k. Kit and shoes another $1k. Oh, and it’s all disposable and very easily broken. Dog forbid you crash, because those Zipp 808’s retail for about $3k. And let’s not forget tires, which can cost more than new tires for a car and last for a fraction of the time. What business model triples the cost and actually lowers the value to the consumer?
- Poverty. In 1984, a solid middle class income was $27,393. In 2014 dollars, that’s $63,019. Today’s middle class income in that same bracket? $64,582. Yep. In thirty years the biggest consumer for bike racing has seen his income go up less than $1,500, while the cost of bike crap has gone up (conservatively) $6,000. Let’s see. Should I pay for food, rent, healthcare, education, or … bike racing? Tough decision for a few. But only a few.
- Buzzkill. The professionalization of masters racing has made it very serious. Serious people like to yell and shout and create heaps of drama at races. Not-so-serious people, which is pretty much everyone else, don’t really like spending their weekend getting yelled at or abused. So they stay home while a few self-important pricks strut around as if what they did in a Sunday crit really mattered.
- Hopelessness. In the 1/2/3/4/5 categories, there’s always a shuffle. Someone younger is always coming up through the ranks and knocking off the older riders. It’s the cycle of life. But not in masters racing. Once you race an age category, the same people who win will always be the same people who win — from age 35 to age 75 — so you have forty years of getting beaten by the same people over and over and over and over again. Good times!
- Time. We have less of it, bike racing requires more. Why do we have less time? Because of poverty. We’re working more to pay for essentials, and masters bike racing isn’t an essential.
- Rewards. What are they, again? There’s no money. There are no trophies. No one gets a juice box. It’s just the “fun” of competition. Well, that works for two kinds of people: the perennial winners who like staving everyone else’s head in, and the perennial losers who don’t mind losing. That’s a customer base of about 12 people, by the way.
- Cheating. Masters racers cheat, and promoters, who are taxed to the teeth by USA Cycling, and struggling under huge operating costs, can’t afford drug testing. So the cheaters get away with it, and the non-cheaters blame everyone who wins on “doping.”
- Safety. USA Cycling races are horribly dangerous compared to other leisure activities available to elderly men with leaky prostates. USA Cycling encourages risky behavior when its PAID officials fail to aggressively enforce rules against chopping, dive-bombing, elbow throwing, bar banging, post-race face-punching, etc.
However much all of these factors have brought low the mighty dinosaur, none has inflicted the mortal wound. The true killer not just of masters racing, but of bike racing in general, is Strava. And folks, Strava is here to stay.
Strava offers everything to the competitive cyclist except reality. It is free. It rewards you. It lets you set up special courses and categories that YOU can win, or at least get “on the leader board.” It is safe. Unlike USA Cycling, whose officials in SoCal don’t do squat for race safety, Strava bans segments that are reported as dangerous.
Plus, with Strava you don’t have to travel, and every day is a bike race. Strava lets you brag to your friends, compete with little “I stole your KOM” tits-for-tats, and doesn’t require any bike handling skills. On Strava, everybody’s a Cat 1.
The only downside to Strava, of course, is that it’s completely fake and that it eliminates the one thing that makes a bike race a true competition: Everyone has to race at the same day on the same course at the same time. But it’s the virtual, inauthentic nature of Strava that real bike racing can’t compete with.
And the icing on the cake? When’s the last time your wife ever complained about you going out to take someone’s KOM?
RIP, masters racing. It was sort of nice known’ ya.
Additional participants in the mercy killing:
11. Cost Plus. In addition to the cost of a road bike, you now also need a time trial bike if you’re going to do 3-day races with a TT. Add $10k. Also, you will need a power meter ($1k – $4k), a computer ($500), and a set of race wheels to go with your training wheels ($2k). And a coach, because you can’t beat guys who train 30 hours a week just by riding hard. Trust me on that last one.
12. “The Competition.” In addition to Strava, whose value proposition overwhelms yours, in the last 30 years there has been an incredible proliferation of fun, challenging, “non-race” rides that are effectively unsanctioned races. In LA alone you can do the NPR on Tuesday morning (always race pace), the Major Motion ride on Tuesday evening (always race pace), the Amalfi Ride on Thursday morning (race pace, but with stops), the Rose Bowl Ride (pure race), the M500 (pure race), the Donut Ride (race), the Montrose Ride (race with stoplights) … and that doesn’t even count the Grand Fondos, century rides, and countless other road rides where you can mix it up without paying a fortune, driving across the country, and paying a fortune. Did I mention paying a fortune?
13. “The Competition” v. 2. Other types of racing have increased in popularity and they compete with USAC road events. That’s cyclocross and mountain bike racing. They have a better vibe. More interesting venues. More spectators. Better officiating. Safe courses. They’re cheaper and closer to home and at least for ‘cross the equipment is a lot cheaper and there’s less of it.
14. Pain. Road racing is too hard. People on training rides cut the ride, do a “B” ride, refuse to do new challenging additions. Why? Because they are weak and lazy and entitled and they don’t want to get their nuts pounded off with the handle of a chisel. The San Marcos crit (35 starters in the 35+, 19 finishers), was so miserably awful that I contemplated quitting every lap. And I was in the 45+. Road racing is worse and harder. It’s grueling and it goes on for hours. People don’t want that anymore. They want something that hurts a little bit, but not too much — certainly they don’t want to submit to 30-degree sleet at Devil’s Punchbowl for 2.5 hours, with 6k of elevation per lap, riding alone. The most important thing is that they look good, don’t wind up in the ICU or a wheelchair, and that for dog’s sake they don’t break their equipment. Because unlike brains and body parts, an expensive bike nowadays can’t be replaced.
August 14, 2014 § 28 Comments
I had been faithful to her for years. There have been other girls who I’ve looked at, sure, but she was the one to whom I remained true.
Then a couple of years ago Sausage whispered to me that there was a smoking hot babe over on his side of town, told me she was “really special” and that she would “really get your pulse up.” I didn’t pay much attention at first, but over time I couldn’t resist the temptation. After all, one woman, no matter how wonderful, can’t satisfy you all the time. It’s natural to want variety, to do things a little differently, to feel the touch of someone different and new.
Sure, I knew it was wrong. But today I snapped. I felt terrible as I sneaked out of the house extra early this morning. My wife must have known something was up, because she said, “Isn’t it too early for the NPR?”
I mumbled something, got dressed, and switched off the light as I made my guilty escape. After a frenzied ride up the bike path, I met her. There on 26th and San Vicente, the morning not yet fully broken, there she was, ready for the taking if only I was man enough to handle her.
Sausage was in the middle of the group that whizzed by. He winked. “Finally came to get some, eh?” he said.
I nodded, no longer guilty, no longer afraid of the treachery I was about to commit. To the contrary, I was burning, on fire, the blood pounding through my veins as we met for the first time. The way she roared downhill on San Vicente, so smooth, so fast, so racy, it was a dream.
Then it all changed in an instant. Suddenly she was going up, up, up, with Manzila blasting at the front, shattering the group as it launched up her curving, sloping surface. I was panting from the exertion, exploring her, feeling her out, looking for that rhythm that comes when two bodies, in synch, pulsate with the pounding.
The first time it was awkward, I’ll admit it. I’d been so accustomed to my lover of all those Tuesday and Thursday mornings that I had a hard time adjusting to her raw, jagged uphill contours. I’m embarrassed to say that I was so excited that I finished too quickly the first time, giving out before I should have, with a dozen or so riders ahead of me. I knew she was unsatisfied.
We sat on the corner at Sunset and regrouped. I looked at Gareth, still out of breath. “What’s her name?” I asked.
“Amalfi,” he said. “Her name is Amalfi.”
“What a beautiful name,” I thought to myself, but before I could repeat it we were off again. This second time around, a group of three wankers launched on San Vincente. I followed. This time I wasn’t going to finish early; no, I’d hold it strong and steady and even, driving her and driving her until she was satisfied, too.
We hit Chainbreaker Corner and I pounded with a frenzy. My breakaway companions sagged and heaved their shoulders. Their wad was shot. Alone I soldiered on until Gareth caught me, then dropped me. I struggled back on, grinding away, not done yet. Then Manzilla came by. I latched onto him and he dragged us to the final hundred meters, when a gaggle of four or five riders swarmed by us at the end.
I was wasted, wrecked, spent, and she was, too. I know she liked it, but as we waited again at Sunset to regroup I could tell she wanted it one more time. And I promised that I’d give it to her.
Again on San Vicente I launched with three others, except this time Gareth went with us. By Chainbreaker it was “just the two of us,” and it was this final effort that was most exhausting, most painful, yet most beautiful and satisfying of all.
“Oh, Amalfi,” I said, as I pounded and pushed and thrashed, sweat pouring off my face, grunting and gasping and moaning, amazed that I had this third effort in me, amazed that Gareth hadn’t spit me out the back and left me for dead, amazed at Amalfi’s grace.
And that was the end, just Gareth and I sweating and heaving atop her.
On the way home I was flooded with guilt, but also with a sense of love and, yes, conquest. I would never abandon my dear old lover NPR; Tuesday mornings at 6:40 were still for her and her alone. But now that I had tasted the forbidden fruit of the Amalfi Ride, now that I had buried myself in the triple climax of her six minutes and thirty seconds of pure ecstasy, I knew I would be back for more.
Would NPR understand? I hope she will. I’m only human.
August 12, 2014 § 19 Comments
I hadn’t raced my bike since late May. The plan was to take a month off and then pick back up in July. A solid month of rest and beer would rejuvenate my legs, refresh my mind, and restore the killer competitive spirit that had led to so many 57th and lower placings over the first part of a very successful road season.
In July, however, a strange thing happened. Instead of jumping back into racing with a vengeance, I found myself discovering ever more first-rate reasons not to race. I couldn’t do the Manhattan Beach Grand Prix because it wasn’t technical enough for a pro bike handler like me, and plus, it was too dangerous. Way too many crashes, and anyway I’m so over racing crits.
Ontario the following week was a non-starter as well. It’s not too far, but the afternoon return traffic on the 10 is just not how I plan to spend my Sunday. The prize list sucks balls too, especially once you get down into 50th place and lower. And it’s another boring crit. If I’m going to race my bike, I need a real challenge.
Sherman Pass Road Race looked good on paper, but frankly it was too far away and had too much climbing. Fifty-three miles with 8,700 feet of elevation? Are you kidding? That’s a race for pure climbers, not all-around journeymen like me. Also, road races just don’t have enough riders in my age category, so they’re more like time trials, and I’m not driving all day out to the Sierras to do a time trial.
The Carlsbad Grand Prix was a pretty solid crit, slightly technical, not too far, solid field, and one of the most important races for my team sponsor, SPY Optic. But that course is occasionally susceptible to strong headwinds on the back side of the course. I am more of a tactical rider rather than the kind of guy who can charge into the wind off the front for 45 minutes. Pass.
The CBR crit the following weekend was too close to home. I get tired of seeing the same old faces. Plus, the course is too easy and my race goes off too early, before the wind kicks up. I prefer a race that has some tough challenges, that require you to fight the elements, not just tactically sit around all day.
The following weekend I was tempted to go to the Death Valley Omnium, but at this time of year, and with global heating, it’s too hot. Plus, omniums are no good. It should be a stage race. I’m really more of a stage racer, a GC kind of rider than anything else.
Brentwood Grand Prix was one that I had circled on my calendar because it really caters to all my strengths. It’s close to home, but not too close. The course is technical but not dangerous. There are opportunities for a smart breakaway tactician like me, and it has a slight bump before the finish which really suits my powerful seated accelerations. But the morning of the race it was misty and I didn’t want to race on a course where it had been damp several hours before my event.
So now it was mid-August and there was one race left on the calendar, the San Marcos crit. Fortunately, it is the perfect course for me and one I have excelled on in the past. Last year’s 49th placing was a huge step up, and the year before I finished the 45-plus race and the 35-plus race.
The only down side was that out of 42 riders our squad only had about ten guys, so even though we were short on manpower we’d have to figure something out. Before the race Mike and I were warming up. “How’re the legs?” I asked.
“Haven’t been training too much since my injury, but I’ll do the 45+ and the 35+ for the fitness.”
“The only time I did the 45+ and the 35+ races it felt like getting circumcised with a rusty file,” I advised.
Our team strategy was simple: pedal faster than everyone else. The only problem was that “everyone else” included Thurlow Rogers a/k/a The Hand of God a/k/a THOG, and Mark Noble. Check his race results this year on the USAC web site and cringe.
The San Marcos course is a simple four-corner crit with a dogleg. On the first lap we made the first turn and flew down the long downhill, which funnels through a bottleneck turn lined with cones on the left that separate idiot bicycle racers going way too fast from idiot motorists who are also going way too fast. I watched in terror as everyone scrunched up their brakes and threaded the narrow turn.
Those of us at the back then accelerated from zero back up to 37 and whipped along the flat crosswind section in a single file until we hit turn three, another accordion turn that shunts a wide, fast moving peloton into two narrow lanes also marked with cones on the left and death on the right. Poor positioning again meant another 0-30 acceleration, but at least it was with a tailwind.
Finally we hit turn four, a wider, safer turn that goes bolt-uphill. If you’re well positioned towards the front, the momentum of the pack will carry you halfway up the incline, but if you’re flogging in the rear, decelerating at the turn due to the clogstacles in front of you, it takes a 1500-watt effort to make it up the little hill. Or a 1200-watt effort if that’s all you have. Or, yes, 750.
Then the road flattens and does a little chicane and then goes up again. This is the part where, if you’ve played it right, you still have to dig deep to roll over the top. If you’ve played it wrong, or in the key of B, it’s the worst nightmare imaginable of all sharps and flats.
Since I had felt great on the starting line, the place where I typically do my best work, I was amazed at the sensations in my legs after one measly lap, sensations that corresponded perfectly to the quit gene. “No problem,” i said to myself. “I’ll feel better on the next lap.”
I did in fact feel better, but only because I didn’t follow the guy in front of me too closely. On the downhill screamer his rear wheel hit the manhole cover and slipped. He over-corrected and shot out between the cones into traffic. If he’d been going any faster he would have high-sided into a solemn graveside service.
I looked over at Mike. “Still thinking about that 35+ race in a couple of hours?”
“No,” he said.
We finished the second lap and the quit gene hadn’t stopped screaming. On the third lap the winning breakaway went. Shockingly and against all predictions, it was THOG and Noble. Since we comprised 1/4 of the field, it was a matter of course that we had a teammate in the break.
I dashed to the front and slowed the pack to a crawl. Using my patented Chicken Little cornering technique, for two laps I went so slowly through each turn that every Garmin in the peloton began to emit “rider paused” warning beeps. Finally, confident that the invisible break had enough pavement to hold their gap, I rolled back into the field. My work was done.
King Harold came up to me. “Dude,” he said. “What the fuck were you doing?”
“Blocking,” I said, filling with satisfaction of a job well done.
“Well great fucking job, wanker. We don’t have anyone in the friggin’ break. You just gave the two fastest guys in California an additional forty-five seconds. Not like they need it.”
“Oh, yeah, tough guy?” I said. “Then maybe you should just go chase them yourself.”
King Harold shook his head and leaped out of the pack. Since it was a 23-mph headwind and we had just started up the impossible hill, no one even thought about following. With THOG and Noble going as hard as they could, King Harold donated a lung and a kidney to the crit deities, put his head down, and crossed over the forty-five second gap.
Although the timers only had the gap at 45 seconds, the person bridging had to calculate the gap based on Einstein’s theory of special relativity, which meant that, out in the wind, alone, sad, missing his mommy, and knowing that his entire team was tucked cozily on the wheel of everyone else, it felt like about twelve thousand millenia.
Somehow, bending the rules of space and time, King Harold bridged across after two-and-a-half laps of incomprehensible, childbirth-like suffering. He didn’t win (who “wins” against THOG and Noble?), but he salvaged the team’s reputation enough so that post-race we could all sit around at the team beer tent and tell him how we would have gone with him if we’d been in a better position.
“Dude,” I said. “I so wish I had been with you to help.”
“Man,” said DJ. “I was too far back to follow when you jumped. Wish I could have helped.”
“Idiots,” said a bystander. “You had ten out of 40 riders. How did you not win this race?”
“Gentlemen,” said MMX. “Have another fine brew from Lost Abbey.”
While the other teams, resplendent in victory, posed for photos on unstable Tinkertoy podium blocks, we enjoyed even more fermented farm products. They were covered in sweat and glory, but we were covered in the rosy, hops-infused glow of not giving a flying fuck. Now that is “winning.”
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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?
August 8, 2014 § 20 Comments
Have you ever noticed that for the most part, good bicycling advocates are hardly ever “cyclists”? By “cyclist” I mean:
- Wannabe racer
- Anyone who owns more than $5k worth of bike
The people who show up at town hall meetings, city council meetings, and transportation committee meetings are almost always slow, hairy-legged, wall-eyed bicycle riders who stumble up to the lectern with one pant leg still rolled up.
They are so uncool.
The cool people “ain’t got time for that.” They race. They train. They sprunt. They fall of their bicycles and file police reports. They send in entry fee reimbursement requests to their team boss, the timely receipt of which will determine whether they can pay the rent. But they sure as hell don’t drag ass downtown to make a 7:00 PM meeting so they can add their comments to Subsection 2-15(a) of the amendment of the municipal city plan that addresses bicycle infrastructure.
Nope. The people who take the time and make the effort are the one-leg-rolled-up wankers who get shelled on the first lap of the Tuesday Night World Championships. Worse, they’re often technical people, like engineers, who actually study traffic patterns, who have experience in roadway design, and (the real whackos) who spend their free time analyzing detailed planning reports.
And of course, it’s thanks to them that the rules get changed, that laws get passed, that the rights of bicyclists are addressed by our non-cycling elected officials.
It would be a cliché if it didn’t hurt so bad: The most numerous people who show up at public planning meetings are the rabid, SUV-driving, bike-hating crazies who shout the loudest, while the isolated bike advocate, smelling of a long commute, stares down the mindless cager mob with facts, statistics, and the bloody, penetrating lance of reason.
Fortunately, the Bike Plan Team in charge of the Regional Bicycle Master Plan for the Las Virgenes-Malibu regions has set up the equivalent of a cyclist roach motel in order to snare the wary and cunning “cyclists” into doing something positive for the greater riding community. The Bike Plan Team will be hanging out this coming Sunday at Malibu Country Mart from 8:30 AM to 12:00 noon. They’ll be there so that all of the “cyclists” rolling up and down PCH can engage in the equivalent of Internet activism. All you have to do when you roll through Malibu is stop for a minute and give your thoughts about making the Las Virgenes-Malibu region safer and more comfortable for bicycling.
When you stop by the Bike Plan tent to speak with team members you can complete a short bicycle survey and grab free bicycle-related swag. This approach recognizes that cyclists just want to ride, and generally don’t want to attend evening meetings (except for Brad House and David Kramer). It also lets you (yes, YOU) add your voice to a plan whose goal is to make the PCH corridor and region a more enjoyable and safer place to bike. Hint: Advocate for our and YOUR right to control the full right-hand lane on PCH.
Another thing you can do when you roll through is to tell them that you want — NOW — sharrow lane markings and “Bikes May Use Full Lane” signs on Pacific Coast Highway.
Of course, many “cyclists” are too busy to even do that because, Strava. There are KOM’s to chase, pace lines to keep up with, and training databases to populate with VAM’s, w/kg’s, and what you had for breakfast. But the Bike Plan Team is ready for you. You don’t even have to stop; you can fill out an online survey to help create a plan that reflects your needs, wishes, and dystopian fantasies, most of which likely involve Cher on a 400-mile gravel grinder somewhere east of Bakersfield. Take the survey by going to this page and clicking on the survey link. No matter how lazy you are, and if you’re a bike racer you’re plenty lazy, you can’t possibly be too lazy to do this.
I would absolutely be there in person for the event except, you know, I have to race on Sunday.
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