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Cakes, climbs, and race numbers

- For that, they wore long-sleeve skinsuits?

- Take 2.

- Dietary advice courtesy of an in-his-prime Eddy Merckx: ‘It’s not the cakes. It’s the climbs.’

- I think maybe I’ll run for the USA Cycling Board of Directors and my platform will be 1 issue deep: Henceforth race numbers shall only be pinned to pockets, and touch no other portion of the jersey. The numbers themselves cannot be taller than a jersey pocket or wider than 1.5 jersey pockets. 4-digit race numbers shall be banned. If a race number is ever pinned around a shoulder blade or if it obscures a mid-back sponsor logo the race organizer will pay each rider a fine of 2x their entry fee.

I would explore fast-track development of a budget-minded chip timing system in which riders would be issued 1 chip per year and they would use it at every race and organizers would be furnished a device to read the chips and would return it to USA Cycling once their race(s) were complete with an option to buy said device at a rock-bottom price.

Once chips become the norm perhaps the federation would require one physical number on the bicycle itself in order to allow riders to ID rivals in Stage Race GC, but otherwise it will be a delightful day when our jerseys are set free first by PRO race number sizing & placement restrictions and then full-on race number obsolescence. ‘Til then, I’ll still fume ever time I’m told that folding my race number is a crime.

- Sweet compilation of ’09 Tour photos.

- Some interesting stories from the annual Specialized conference last week. One significant dealer was down 30% in May and 50% in June, and an article suggests that tough times were the rule, not the exception. Revenue was back to 2006 and 2007 levels for many.

These dismal economic numbers, of course, weren’t caused because these folks are Specialized dealers. I don’t doubt that Trek and Giant dealers are feeling similar pain. Companies like Specialized, Trek, and Giant aren’t built to absorb a sustained decrease in their own revenue numbers and inventory turns. To them, these trends represent death of the only business model they’ve ever known: The sustained sales growth provided by a year-on-year increase in purchases through their only sales channel, their dealer network.

When it comes to Specialized and Trek, look at the investments they’ve made and the investments they’re making. These moves are based on growth, not stasis or worse. The day will come -- or is it here right now? -- when they’ll have to break their addiction to their dealer networks and make the leap into selling their bikes direct-to-consumers online. We think of it as business evolution and it’ll go a long way towards their economic viability. Previously they wouldn’t expand to direct-to-consumer online sales out of fear of causing an insurrection in their dealer base. But look at how their dealer base is providing for them: Not so well. Dealers are losing their economic leverage with their suppliers. Who will it be? Specialized, Trek, or Giant? Who will break the seal and start selling consumer-direct first?

A local bike shop is the sort of local commercial culture that gives neighborhoods vibrancy and life. They provide real local culture. But, economically speaking, it’s tough trying to make a good life from a seasonal, inventory-intensive business. When consumer-direct sales from bike manufacturers start -- and it’s no longer a matter of ‘if’, but rather of ‘when’ -- it’ll make their lives even more challenging.

- When I sprint up to the would-be motor vehicular assassin in the Volvo at the busy intersection and use my a fingernail to tap on the window and state that if I ever see him again in my neighborhood that I’ll fucking kick his ass is that terroristic threatening or is it emotionally healthy to let it all out?

- The debacle that is the Mavic R-SYS wheelset is, by now, well-known. The first-generation was subject to a massive recall. Then an inaugural set of the second-generation wheels went to a VeloNews editor who was victim to a spontaneous wheel detonation, the cause of which has been hotly debated in public.

We can only imagine the financial investment Mavic has in R&D, production, and inventory in their Tracomp spoked-wheels (that’s the round carbon spokes at the center of the drama), which no doubt is the reason why they won’t walk away from the technology. Step 1 was to publicly dispute VeloNews’ account. Step 2 was for Mavic to be frank with their dealers and state with no equivocation that the new Tracomp technology is safe and desirable. Step 3 was to put their sponsored riders on the R-SYS in the Tour and circulate photos of that fact, viral-like, on the internet. (An effort, it seems, that we’re perpetuating here.)

We think Mavic is a magnificent company and that generally speaking they make fine equipment. But we cater to a studious clientele, and we can’t imagine how anyone who might shop for the R-SYS on-line and eventually come across the Competitive Cyclist website wouldn’t have first unearthed a heap of negative PR related to the first recall and the subsequent VeloNews situation. A neighborhood bike shop catering to a largely non-obsessive customer base of recreational cyclists might get away with pushing the R-SYS, akin to the experience I’d personally have in buying a tennis racket or lawncare equipment. For that reason, one might argue that the R-SYS has viability despite it all. But our customers are a thoughtful -- dare I say ‘skeptical’ -- bunch. The ‘Are you kidding me?’ interaction, it stings whenever it’s pointed at us. I can’t see putting ourselves in the bullseye of customer incredulity with the R-SYS in 2010.

- More wheel news: Eagle-eyed browsers of Competitive Cyclist will notice that we no longer offer Lightweight. Few decisions we’ve ever made have been this painful. We were close to the founders of the company and especially so to the one individual most instrumental in cultivating the widely-held belief that no other wheelset is remotely so nice to ride and own. Stefan Behrens was a brilliant marketer and he possessed perhaps an unmatched ability to articulate complex engineering details in language clear for laymen. Last year when he stepped down from day-to-day operations at Lightweight’s parent company, Carbonsports, we knew it couldn’t be a move for the better. In our eyes Stefan was the heart and soul of Lightweight.

As Stefan exited the company it was amidst a messy divorce with its US distributor while still coping with the unresolved problem of leftover inventory at their previous US distributor. In Stefan’s absence we’ve heard varied stories of a new west-coast distributor -- one that to this day has shipped nary a set of wheels. We’ve given Carbonsports our credit card and begged them to bill and ship inventory directly from Germany -- whenever, whatever. They shipped us nearly nothing. Our calls and emails were, at best, sporadically answered. As time went on and our patience grew strained as those replies became even less frequent.

And then there’s the matter of the Lightweight clincher. Carbonsports has been hyping these wheels for three years with promises so tantalizing that no one considering Lightweights would buy the (reasonably available) tubulars, instead patiently opting for clinchers since they seemed to be the first-ever clincher with no downsides. But here’s the problem: While a Lightweight tubular rim is built with true one-piece construction, the hook-bead of the clincher demanded a two-piece construction. Lightweight’s research showed that their tubular rims heat up to a maximum of 165 degrees Celsius, but the construction of the clincher generated rim heat up to 185 degrees, which caused delamination unseen in the tubulars. That’s the road block with the clinchers: How to deal with the extra heat. It’s a puzzle they’ve been unable to solve and it’s negated three years of hype; it’s gutted the economic value of countless potential Lightweight customers who would’ve otherwise gone tubular; and due to the umpteen declarations made by Carbonsports that clincher shipments are just ‘a few weeks away’ our customers have grown impatient in us and weary of Lightweight.

All of the above, though, is somewhat routine. In the bike industry premature hype and lies rosy estimates about delivery dates are constants and they’re anything-but-unique to Carbonsports. The final nail in the coffin came, though, when they went above and beyond with their communication skills. While it’s one thing to endure silence regarding sales inquiries, we had warranty situations to resolve and our phone calls and emails were met by a stony, Teutonic wall of silence. Their non-responsiveness as we tried to be stewards for our most valuable customers, one with legitimate warranty concerns regarding their profoundly pricey gear, pushed us over the edge. When a manufacturer doesn’t have our back, imperiling our ability to have our customers’ backs -- that’s a death sentence. Which is why Lightweight is no longer offered here at Competitive Cyclist.

- Final thought about the Tour de France: In an era where enormous cost is spent to ensure that every last time-trialing detail about a rider’s clothing, equipment, and position has been fine-tuned for aerodynamics, why oh why do so many ride with round bottles in the race of truth? If you are a full-time pro in Europe please email us at sendmeafreearundelchrono@competitivecyclist.com and we’ll rush one out to you at no cost.

Please don’t say ’round vs. aero bottles makes no drag difference’ because there is a performance difference, but even more important is the implications vis a vis attitude: If I’m the DS I’d want my riders believing that no detail has been left untouched and no reasonable expense has been spared to ensure maximum performance.

- I’m trying to come to terms with the fact that cyclingnews.com won’t go the New Coke route and revert to its Classic look.. In my search for acceptance I think I’ve identified the three things that most acutely make it so I can’t feel comfortable there: (1) Foremost is the stylized grey/ black blob at the top of the page. We’ve previously expressed our horror at it, and the feeling hasn’t diminished one bit.

(2) The race results on the left side of the page are clumsy to scan for several reasons: (a) The 70x70px photo next to the top 3 or 4 races are too small to tell a story, but they’re sufficiently big to force the list of races to be unreasonably long. (b) There are three different pieces of type here: The bold purple race title, the tiny date and classification text, and then the report & photo text links. It’s a stylistic mish-mash. My advice would be to nuke the micro-photos; make the purple race name unbolded black; and get rid of the date and classification info.

(3) On the old cyclingnews you could scan all the day’s highlights at a glance. No need to touch your mouse. Now they’ve stacked individual headlines with those pesky 70×70 photos, sticking the aggregated ‘News Edition’ headlines damn near to the bottom of the page. What used to be the most important part of the home page has been effectively killed. CN, please put the ‘News Editions’ back up high again. This is your true above-the-fold real estate. It’s what your readers seek the most. Don’t force us to hunt for it.

What else bugs you about the new cyclingnews? Please, no ad hominem attacks or ‘I miss Gerard Knapp’ stories. Some cyclingnews brass will apparently pay us a visit in early August, and I’d like to show them the ways they can improve.

- The Boulder Report provides some insight about Radio Shack’s decision to enter bike racing.