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Forsaking The Hacksaw

- I’ve spent the previous 8 months in strict monogamy with a Ridley Damocles PI -- the largely unseen & unsold version of Ridley’s super-popular Damocles model. The one-and-only difference is that in lieu of a standard 31.6mm seatpost, the PI has an integrated seatmast (ISP), which has given me ample opportunity to judge the overall desirability and practicality of the ISP design as a whole.

Looking back at other ‘innovations’ in the evolution of the modern road racing frameset, most of them eventually seemed to make sense: Threadless stems and oversized headtubes lead to a tangibly stiffer and surer front end. Integrated headsets are convenient in how they eliminate the need to press in headset cups. The same holds true (amongst other benefits) with BB30. (Easier component installation only irritates curmudgeonly purists since the sight of high-end taps and presses Once Upon A Time aroused the same sort of bike-awe as pantagraphed Super Record.) In short, despite the controversy change brings, the current state of affairs with the average ProTour-caliber road frameset is pretty good.

So how does the ISP fit into the discussion? Is it just another chapter of the same story, i.e. a little unnerving at first, but ultimately a change in frame manufacturing that ought to become prevalent? 8 months of experience suggests that the answer is no. The ostensible upsides to the ISP -- an enhanced sense of connection to your seat tube; a surer feel of power transfer as your put out big in-the-saddle watts -- I’ve never felt it. Maybe it’s there and I’m just tone deaf. Or, more likely, I’m too terrorized (and therefore distracted) by the lack of ease the ISP gives me to indulge my lifelong saddle-position OCD. Fore/aft. Nose up/nose down. Higher/lower. Does the germy bathroom doorhandle freak you out? Before you go to bed do you check the deadbolt any less than 4 times? Channel that mania through a Fizik Aliante -- that’s my brain.

How does one cope when the primary tool for positional changes is a hacksaw? Adding spacers to get higher is labor-intensive in a way that a seat binder could never possibly be. And while it’s taken decades for the nano-adjustable seatpost head to become commonplace, every ISP head I’ve ever seen is clunky circa 1980′s.

Not to mention that traveling with an ISP bike makes one of life’s most punishing endeavors -- flying with a bike -- even more fraught with anxiety & cost. And, lastly, torque specs be damned, the only way I’ve been able to silence my greased-but-nonetheless-creaking seat assembly is to crank down the clamping bolt to the point where it wasn’t just smoking but in flames.

I’ve spent much time on a standard Damocles and it was a bike I’ve always been fond of, yet I couldn’t discern added benefit from the ISP version. Nonetheless, the Damocles PI is still a tempting bike to offer for sale here at Competitive Cyclist because for those amongst us who are equipment tycoons, any given bike needn’t add watts or be practical. If it leads to a feeling of PROness, well…isn’t that good enough? As an objet d’art a well-made frame with an ISP has an uninterrupted, liquid-like form whose elegance beats the plain utility of a standard seatpost/seatclamp. Beauty. There’s something to be said for it, and it’s the one word to utter in the ISP’s defense.

A final thought on related marketing irony: As it stands now, Wilier is the only brand I know that produces an ISP bike (two of them, in fact: the Cento1 SL and the Cento1) and overtly states that you can hack off the ISP, stick on a seatclamp, then insert a standard seatpost. It’s a straightforward way to address the greatest fears of a potential ISP bike owner: (1) What if I cut it too low? (2) Will this bike have any resale value? While the Damocles PI has a teardrop-shaped seattube that wouldn’t allow the use of a standard seatpost under any circumstance, most ISP’s are round and surely have the same versatility as the Wilier. Why don’t these other brands mention it? By doing so does it undermine the purported unique virtues of the ISP? Beats me. It seems like a huge benefit getting swept under the rug.

- Who isn’t familiar with Graham Watson’s most beautiful photo from Liege-Bastogne-Liege? (Good God, how old is the shot, BTW? Is that an Ariostea jersey I see?) Some interesting trivia: The steep hill in the photo bisects the town of Houffalize, Belguim. That climb doubles as the start line of the annual World Cup Mountain Bike race held there.

I bring this up for one reason only. I’ve often wondered about Europe’s enduring affection for the hardtail mountain bike, whereas the US market is crazy for 5′ full suspension. Houffalize (in part) might hold the answer. Not unlike a cyclocross race or an overfull crit, the first 500m of a World Cup mountain bike race is where all hope of victory ends for about 80% of the pack. Could you imagine launching yourself into the start of Houffalize on anything but a hardtail? While the US MTB market has a ski-like vibe to it (fun trumps racing for 99.99%), Europe worships its MTB race heroes no differently than what you see with road.

- Courtesy of the Cyclocosm twitter feed: An awesome bit of Bob Roll from back in the day. I get so distracted by his unconvincing Versus method acting I forget how many great stories he’s written. The granddaddy of English-speaking PRO literature? It was Bob Roll.

- A beautifully-done tribute to Jacques Anquetil. You can’t beat that Hinault quote.

- What’s seen less in the pro peloton, Tommy D or the Mavic R-SYS? Both make a fleeting cameo here, in what’s a mostly groovy video. It got me wishing I’d taken a film studies class so I’d be armed with the terminology to properly explain how annoying the oversaturated soft blues and gauzy border became after about 90 seconds. They did that kind of shit with Cybil Shepherd on ‘Moonlighting’ back in the LeMond era. I hated the technique then, too. It’s too bad because otherwise there was plenty of PROness to be admired.