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A Meringue-Like Froth

- The traits of a great bike mechanic: He reads & returns to the manual. He loves his torque wrench. He welcomes conversation about the problem that, at any given point, he’s trying to solve. At the end of the day his bench is spotless. And while I don’t know what makes an amazing surgeon or pilot, I imagine it’s not unlike the work done by the best mechanics: 99% of it is precise adherence to protocol, and the other 1% is a wicked sense for improvisation.

For all of the more complicated components handled by a mechanic, none in the modern era offers the special frustrations of a front derailleur. I’m not referring to shift quality or derailleur height or H/L adjustment (touchy things all). Rather, it’s the simplest detail: Cinching the clamp that attaches the front derailleur to a seat tube. For all of a frame’s beefy wall thickness at its tubing junctures, where it’s decidedly not beefy is far up the seat tube where the derailleur clamp wraps around the tube. Combine this with the fact that component manufacturers look at a clamp as something prime to be shaved down (to save grams), the torque setting for the clamp bolt is a scant 5Nm.

Think of the myriad forces on a front derailleur: The incessant downward pull/release of the cable; the sucking force of pushing a chain up or down. On a per sq cm of surface area basis, is any component as brutalized as the humble front derailleur? Because of this, no matter how liberal you might get with your Tacx Assembly Paste, 5Nm can feel like an insufficiently light torque on a clamp bolt -- especially if the derailleur migrates downward or inward a few mm over time. You have 2 choices to solve this migration when it happens: (a) Sell your bike and buy one with a braze-on front derailleur. (b) Wrench the bolt with torque exceeding the recommended 5Nm.

What you see pictured here is the result of option (b). It’s not as though it was torqued down to 12Nm. Yet it broke and the folks at Campagnolo USA told us (i) Yes, this is an oft-seen breakage on 11spd Campagnolo front derailleurs. (ii) No, it is not covered by warranty since it’s the byproduct of >5Nm of clamping force.

Raise your hand if you remember the turn-of-the-century broken Campy Record carbon seatpost epidemic. While Campy steadfastly refused to warranty a single post, what they did do was begin packaging them with a special eccentric clamp that did a better job exerting force around the whole circumference of the post. What is it they say on Wall Street -- ‘they paid a fine without admitting guilt’? Expect some of the same in the near future on the front derailleur clamp design from Campagnolo. That’s not a promise, but it is a prediction.

- I visited the Rapha Cycle Club in NYC for their grand opening fête late last week and was admittedly prepared for the worst. Its cool-kids-neighborhood location triggered visions of Portland-but-worse, i.e. a smugocracy of youngsters with their skinny jeans, Fisher Price My-First-Moustaches, and an actual reason to exhibit a hipster sneer (that is, they live in the center of the universe -- NYC).

My fears were unfounded. The party was vibrant, yet devoid of pretension. The crowd seemed like an inclusive bunch, warmly joined in the concept that brought us together: A 3-month celebration of cycling in the form of a shop that is as much art gallery & vintage jersey archive as it is a retail space. The Cycle Club is beautifully finished out -- the square footage seems bigger than it needs to be, but the benefit is that you can breathe. The folks getting cappuccini here aren’t on top of the folks watching le Tour over there, and likewise they’re not crowding out the artsy types admiring the black & white race photos back there.

Rapha struck the ideal vibe with their NYC Cycle Club: It’s a sincere declaration of love for the sport of bike racing, but what triumphs over all is a sense of joy at the realization (one we’ve all had) that bikes bring their own special transcendence. It’s a darn cool spot, and worth of the trouble to check out. Next time you’re in the city stop buy and buy a coffee & a jersey to support the cause. It’s at 352 Bowery, and it’s open now ’til sometime in September.

Rapha storefront

Rapha pop up NYC

The NYC Raphocracy

Far from the bar

- In the trunk: 7 safety pins, Oakley lenses in 3 different tints, an overflowing backpack, and the good-luck floor pump. It must be race day. And it was last Tuesday and I made the most serendipitous discovery as I dressed out: Do yourself the favor of leaving a jar of Assos Chamois Cream in the car on a warm summer day. At room temperature it’s the consistency of Jello pudding. But an all-day, slow-baking heat gives it a meringue-like frothiness -- lighter, more airy, reminiscent of whipped cream cheese. The texture & the warmth on some of my favorite skin -- it was somewhere between a romance novel and flat-out erotica. I had a good race. A very good race. And I would’ve finished better, I think, if in the last few laps my broiled brain didn’t conjure an image of Chamois Cream Pops, chilled in the freezer, and the desperate pleasure of the thought -- so confusing to an already melting mind.

- Would Cancellara have used his patron powers to hold back the peloton if the Schlek bros. weren’t both caught up in Stage 2′s crashfest? In the fury of a stage finish, would’ve ‘fair play’ entered his mind if his mates were all upright & accounted for? History doesn’t support the ‘protest’ he led: Did the race hold up for Beloki in ’03 [melting tar]? Zulle at the Passage du Gois in ’99 [rising tide]? Mayo on the cobbles in ’04 [Basques on pavé]? My deference to the decision-making of the PROs is absolute, but I wonder if Cancellara played make-believe patron on Bjarne Riis’ frantic orders as a last-ditch attempt to salvage the long-term prospects of Team Saxo Bank’s Tour, and it seems like I’m not alone in this.

- What is Eurosport’s funding model? Why is it that they can show 59 minutes of bike racing coverage every hour, but Versus only can only show 3k of the final 10k on Stage 3? I tend to watch the live coverage with my kids, and I’ve gotten fairly good at the wordplay needed to negate the frightful commercials -- the bottomless Strawberry Daquiris and easy wife-swapping of a Holiday In Las Vegas; the daily Cialis’ promise of morphing Grandpa’s desiccated nub into a veiny, steel hot rod -- so it’s not the ads themselves that grate so. It’s the utter lack of rhythm to the racing when it’s ad after ad, interspersed with so much close-and-personal palaver. Racing? What racing?

Please spare me lectures about my lack of gratitude for the existence of this so-called live coverage on Versus. I’ve lived through every iteration of bike racing coverage since the John Tesh Synthesizer Explosion on CBS back in ’85. The Tour has never been more mainstream in America than it is right now; global communication has never been faster, easier, or cheaper; the worldwide standard for broadcasting bike racing has never been so easily-limned (i.e. networks who pay to show the race tend to show the bloody race). I already pay $50/month or whatever it is for my cable. Must I really pay another $15 or $30 for an online stream in order to actually SEE THE RACE? Given that I enjoy watching with my family, must we crowd around an iPhone or a computer monitor after paying this $15 or $30 in order to actually SEE THE RACE? If I want choppy, mid-res video on my computer, I’ll use cyclingfans.com to get some hacked Eurosport feed on Justin.tv.

We placed like 80 nationwide ads on the Versus Tour coverage 3 years ago, and the crazy thing is how cheap it was. You don’t need mad math skills to multiply our ad expense times the number of total ads shown for all the rebroadcasts. Take into account all of the other mid-coverage plugs (Headsweats-Ask-Bobke here, stitched Izod logo on the sleeve there, a trio of Road ID’s on every wrist in sight, etc, etc, etc) then subtract ASO’s massive license fee and a month’s worth of hotel, liquor, & fuel bills, then the $7/hr they’re paying Robbie & Frankie plus everyone else’s salary -- I guarantee you Versus is getting financially crushed on their investment in the Tour, or at least I fall on my knees when I oh-so-earnestly say my prayers every night and hope they’re mapping out their network-wide layoff plan if not a full-on liquidation right now. It’s time for a bake sale -- like the biggest bake sale ever -- and all proceeds should be mailed to ESPN to help them to outbid Versus next time the Tour contract comes up. As it stands now, I’d rather be watching it on Cyclocosm’s Twitter feed or listening to it on the radio.

- The upside to any attempt to discern a race on Versus’ coverage is that one becomes a connoisseur of the art of the commercial, and I must give props to Specialized for the sheer variety & crisp professionalism of their spots; for the way they charmingly use stars like Contador & Andy Schleck to make their bikes approachable despite the inherent exoticism of high-end goods; and most of all for their emphasis on Specialized’s focus on fit.

By comparison, Cervélo’s super-low-budget approach (it’s been this way for a few years now) has completely lost its novelty. They’re trying to hammer home the point that they’re an engineering-obsessed company (implying that they’re too busy with their protractors and/or too left-brained to make TV commercials), but from the standpoint of bragging on their superior engineering, these spots are all-tell and no-show. Worst of all, their intermittent attempts to build a cult of personality around co-founders (and all-around great guys) Gerard Vroomen & Phil White is tactically terrible. Enzo Ferrari, for all of his brilliance and wonder, is not the reason why someone lusts after the car. It’s the bike, stupid! -- and I wish after 3 or 4 days of live race coverage non-stop commercials I might see a single Cervélo in a Cervélo commercial.

Weakest of the bike commercials are Trek’s. How have they induced mass suicide of audience attention? Let me count the ways: They don’t make us curious (since they never talk bike technology); they don’t romance us (since they never mention the team); and they don’t call us to action (since they plug a bike giveaway two weeks into the future; since they plug a ‘special sale’ that (a) will be in late July, and (b) the special-ness of which is never defined.)