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The Instinct to Shill

- Lugged steel has proven hard to kill, proof of the fickleness of sentimentality in the bike market. Who among us daydreams of riding with feet pinched by Alfredo Binda straps? Of bumping bars in a peloton while reaching for friction downtube shifters? Of riding in shorts whose chamois was just that — the hide of a goat-elk thing? The shorts were the worst of it. In the span of 5 hours what you squatted on was transformed into a desiccated filet. Then came the night, when the sweat dried and the chamois crusted over. Prepping shorts before every ride was like breaking-in a new baseball glove. I was reminded of the Reagan-era ritual misery thanks to a few seconds watching the background of the greatest thing ever filmed, La Course en Tête

What we wear on the bike has come a long way. Still, there is more room for improvement in cycling clothing than in any other aspect of the bike. And while ‘handcrafted’ is the rage du jour, I’d trade all the filigreed and House of Kolored steel in the world for availability of a different kind of customization: tailored cycling clothing. The members of the professional peloton may not complain about the unavailability of custom geometry framesets. But they consider tailored clothing to be a fundamental ProTour right. A jersey that flutters in the wind is the antithesis of aero wheels. And shorts that pinch in the wrong place are a distraction, if not a true irritant. Something that, in the worst case, can result in DNF-grade saddle sores.

Make no mistake, clothing is a bicycle component no less than a handlebar or a crankset. But unlike the flexibility allowed by stem lengths and rises and the hundred other ways of adjusting bike fit, clothing simply fits as it does, take it or leave it. Like being stuck between the 17 and the 19 cogs on a climb, the result is an endless internal debate of whether too much is worse than too little. To wit: If the arm cuffs have the right tension, the sleeves are too long. If the ass panels fit right, the front of the chamois comes up too high. If the straps aren’t overstretched, the tummy panel rides too far above the belly button.

Customization, technology, and fit aren’t just about the bike. As dollars buy diminishing returns for the lightness, stiffness, and responsiveness of bikes, the industry should turn its attention to the benefits of tailored clothing. Bring on the bank-breaking prices. The demographic of Americans who already subsidize the handiwork of the NAHBS includes people who long ago welcomed the investment of serious dollars in perfect fitting non-cycling clothes.

- Look closely. It’s good taste meeting function in a most romantic environment.

- Ardennes fever strikes in mysterious ways. With 50 km or so remaining in Amstel Gold, my hacked Eurosport feed faded into a pixilated mess. Between that and the entertaining (if unintelligible) Flemish commentary, I felt the need to get a crisper grip on the race by consulting the cyclingnews.com live text feed. Since all of this was happening while I was trying to cook some pancakes for my kids’ breakfast, I made the impulse decision to download the cyclingnews.com iPhone app.

Cyclingnews.com iPhone app - not shabby! The app is quite good. The fonts and its excessive use of bold type are perhaps a little cartoonish on the phone. But the navigation on the app is everything that its website isn’t: Simple, intuitive, and stripped of the visual noise that takes up 85 percent of your monitor but probably only gets 5 percent of the overall pageviews. For about 18 months I’ve only consumed cyclingnews through my RSS reader to avoid the obnoxious navigation and clutter of the site. The constraints imposed by the iPhone’s minimal screen space vastly improve the experience. As a bonus, pages load quickly and as it whole it seems stable.

My only major complaint is that the app lacks live race reporting. It’s arguably the most logical piece of content to be consumed on a mobile device. The fact you have to switch from the app to a browser and then read non-mobile-optimized live coverage is an oversight so massive, it must be deliberate. It’s easy to imagine the hefty pageview count the cyclingnews website generates for live race coverage. Pageviews, of course, translates directly into advertising dollars. But those ads don’t appear on the app. so forcing viewers to use a browser instead of the app for live coverage is probably a strategy to keep those page-impression-generated ad dollars flowing. It’s understandable, but a bummer nonetheless.

- Cervélo raised the stakes fearfully high for branded video content when its introduced its ‘Beyond the Peloton’ series. Given that Cervélo bankrolls the project and that it’s stuck to it with it (12 or so episodes a year for three years now), most of the credit belongs to the company. But let’s also give major props to the auteurs behind the films, Joseph Finkleman and Booker Sim. They are skilled storytellers.

As ‘Beyond the Peloton’ gained momentum, the big guns of the bike business have created an arms race of sort around these projects that benefits all hardcore bike race fans. Except for uncomfortable moments of overt product shilling, the level of access and intimacy these films provide is unlike anything since, well, La Course en Tête. Although Mavic, Trek, and Specialized have all put forth interesting films, Cervélo has been bravest in its resistance to shilling. Take the last 30 seconds of its 2011 Milan-San Remo episode — dirty and devastated team riders in slow mo, a brief pan across an S3 downtube and then a shot of father and son. That would propel me to buy a Cervélo a million times more readily than the logo carpet bombing and awkwardly scripted words that sometimes infest the Trek and Specialized productions.

A new player to the branded content game is Vittoria. This is a juicy one for two reasons: (1) Green Vittoria Open Pavé EVO CG tires are the most PRO thing you can buy that isn’t an Ambrosio Nemesis rim, (2) The video revolves around the best Italian race this side of the Tour of Lombardy: The ‘Race of the Dirty Roads’ aka the Montepasche Strade Bianchi. You may want to skip the first 2 minutes. The eye candy comes thick and fast after that:

- Do you remember the 1998 Fleche-Wallone when Bo Hamburger won after attacking up the Mur de Huy? He tried to ‘rock the baby’ as a victory salute but he was so anaerobic that he almost crashed mid-rock. It may be the strangest-ever moment of victory and I’d like the world to delight in it. The first person who can find or otherwise upload the final kilometer and post a link to our Facebook page, will get a $100 Competitive Cyclist gift card in the mail.

- Final note as the Spring Classics wrap up: If you don’t know who Jered Gruber is, tune into his universe now. He was a one-time domestic road pro. Although in the last couple of years he’s exchanged his undistinguished career on the bike for emerging status as America’s finest bike racing photographer. In fact, I’d take Jered’s photos over Graham Watson, Sirotti, TDW, or Cor Vos. There’s an artistry to them lacking in typical journo photos. And best of all he posts them all to Flickr under the name ‘smashred.’ He’s a future photography star.

Sunny dust