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The Conspicuous Non-Conformist

Old school Vuelta- Bike racing was different in my 20′s. Not better, just different, with a much stronger dose of gutsiness. Mid-hill repeats this week it came to me in haiku:

The fear of crashing
was nothing compared to the
fear of getting dropped.

My interval-addled brain remember bits of the most essential roadie text since Krabbé’s The Rider, Michael Barry’s Le Métier. Its voice of experience has driven me back to it pages again and again –

‘In bed, lying awake in the darkness, everything from the past and future swirls together…Once the lights have gone out my mind starts to wander to irrational places as I toss and turn in an attempt to control what I cannot…I envision the roads I will ride, the winding course, the corners, the roundabouts and the descent — the smooth tarmac will be slick. I see a crash; I see myself crashing. I suppress the thought. Gliding through the corner, I accelerate as I travel out of it, attacking my pursuers. Behind, the peloton crumbles into ones and twos as riders fight to hold the wheel in front of them…’

I suppress the thought — the strength inherent to that phrase. Forget the talk about fitness. Losing that strength: It’s the harsher part of growing old.

- Interbike sent this email out last week. Their mix-up between marquee and ‘marquis’ aside, the shocker here was the sight of North Face apparel on the exhibitor list. The legendary purveyor of cosmopolitan poofy jackets has never made even the slightest entrée into the cycling biz. Does this indicate a change?

Cycling apparel is a saturated marketplace. However, the truism holds that you can never have too much excellence, so here’s to hoping they’ll bring real innovation. The cynic in me remembers Patagonia’s disastrous attempts move into the cycling market. That effort was mercifully brief. Patagonia’s ‘Endurance line’ lasted for the 2002 and 2003 seasons. Other than a few pairs of re-badged shorts, it little was different from their hiking-wear. Here’s to hoping North Face heeds that lesson.

- Smith Sport Optics are back at Competitive Cyclist. In a different time on a different planet, its cycling posterboy was none other than Tommy D. He was young and burdened Atlas-like with so much expectation back then. Those were rosier days, before the hand-wringing over his purportedly Eskimo-cursed DNA. The ‘Human Lottery Ticket’ is racing Pais Vasco this week — considered by many the hardest stage race in the world that isn’t a Grand Tour. His performance should be an indicator of how he’ll fare this year — which will likely determine if he’ll still be in the big leagues next year.

- It must be the shoes.

- Interesting acquisition by CyclingPeaks. The rap on Map My Ride is that it’s visually clotted with clumsy UI. Likewise, Garmin Connect lacks depth for folks who train with power. It seems as though hardcore analytical cycling software is coming down to a two-horse race: The veteran outfit at CyclingPeaks, and the NKOTB at Strava. Both companies are staffed by super-serious cyclists who also happen to be genuinely nice guys. TrainingPeaks’ strength (among many) is allowing you to dissect power data to the nth degree. Like so much competition, it’s a shame someone will have to lose. Or maybe they won’t..

Thru-axle- The path of road cycling technology is certain: It will continue to follow mountain bike technology. Some predictions:

(1) Every year the road market unveils ‘enhancements’ that ostensibly are intended to increase front end frame stiffness. That’s why headtubes have evolved from 1′ to 1-1/8′; then 1-1/8′ to a tapered 1-1/4′ to 1-1/8′; and now (at least for Canyon) a tapered 1-1/2′ to 1-1/4′. Similarly, the diameter of handlebars has gone from 26.0mm to 31.8mm and, perhaps, is now headed toward 35.0mm.

However, those alterations are pale when compared with something that could offer far more dramatic improvement to front end stiffness: The 15mm quick-release thru-axle now popular in the world of mountain bikes. The beefier axle combined with closed dropouts provides front-end flex resistance almost anyone would appreciate, even if your sprint isn’t Cav-like. Does it add a few extra grams? Yes, but who wouldn’t pay that price for better performance? Is it more time-consuming to change a mid-race flat? If your road fork still has lawyer tabs on it, a 15mm QR is probably faster to change. With a few reps it’s probably a toss up between a 15mm QR and a non-tabbed road fork with a standard quick release.

(2) The PRO stories that rarely get told involve races that were lost on descents. We’re all familiar with hilltop finish drama. But just as many races are decided by gaps that opened up when the road pointed downward. Braking can determine which side of the gap a rider ends up on. On top of that comes the fact (gleaned from many years in the retail trenches) that the majority of people who want carbon-rimmed wheels but don’t buy them resist the purchase because of fear they will lose braking power when it’s wet. Where are the disc brakes for road bikes? Any additional weight will be more than made up through time gained on descents. The braking modulation and stopping power of mountain bike disc brakes is more like that of your car than the paltry grab of road calipers. It’s another evolution where we we’re not saying ‘if’ but rather ‘when’.

(1x103) Singlespeed mountain bikes are a reflection of the rider: Zen, stubborn, luddite, conspicuous non-conformist, whatever. I am multitudes. While to the unanointed (that is, most of us), it smacks of gimmickry, it has also inspired the 1×10 drivetrain, a more sustainable innovation. With only a single chainring up front, gearing choices become just as important with this arrangement as with a track bike or a singlespeed mountain bike. And, yes, you must accept that sometimes, you will be caught between gears — one too big, the other too small. Still, the advent of the 10-speed 11×36 cassette renders the double, to say nothing of the triple chainring set-up moot for many trails. And it’s not just a mountain phenomenon, of course. It’s quickly becoming the standard in cyclocross as well.

Let’s list the unwanted baggage carried by double chainrings on road bikes: Front derailleurs and the trimming thereof, chainsuck, the inefficiency of cross-chaining and the proliferation of redundant gears in a typical 2×10 roadie setup. How many gears are required on a road cassette for one chainring to effectively cover the spread between 53×12 and 39×25? Is it 12 or is it 13? Or is it daydreaming about a 13-speed cassette is the wrong approach?

My email to Rohloff

If or when we embrace the single-chainring and lose the front derailleur on road bikes, one essential ingredient will be the humble chain guide. Ride a bike fast enough, it begins to bounce. That bouncing, when combined with a spring-tensioned rear derailleur, is a recipe for the chain popping off a chainring. if a front derailleur or chain guide isn’t in place.

- Regarding last week’s comments about stealing away from life’s responsibilities for the sin of midday riding: Yes, we do the same here with our mountain bikes. The midday light is no less unfamiliar and delicious on the singletrack.

Camp Robinson 1

Allsopp Park 1

Boyle Park