– All hail FSA. Since it doesn’t make a full drivetrain, it’s an under-considered brand. But no other company is so dedicated to making flawlessly designed and executed, yet affordable, components. Sure, it made a big, unfortunate bet on its ‘RD’ wheelset platform six or seven years ago. But its management quickly got that bit of madness out of its system and they’ve more than redeemed themselves in the time since.
FSA dominates the headset, handlebar, stem, and seatpost categories. It’s also a crankset and chainring behemoth. Now, during this year’s cyclocross season, it proved that it’s earned its brakeset chops. The SL-K cyclocross brakeset has the style and stopping power of lustworthy options like the Paul Neo-Retro and the Avid Shorty Ultimate. But the SL-K’s cost a fraction of the price and offer arguably easier adjustability. Using them was an experience that’s causing us to look at their road brakesets with an all-new level of seriousness.
– For those of you who take umbrage with the Competitive Cyclist affection for the concept of PRO, a dedication for you: Nothing is more PRO than a set of $50 handlebars on a $10,000 bike. Why? Because $45 FSA Omega Compact alloy bars outperform any $200 carbon thing out there. Its bend is bliss at first touch, and its durability more than offsets the 75g weight gain. Nothing is more gratifying than scanning photos of the PRO peloton and seeing cheap bars everywhere.
– Queue up memories of past alloy bars with the perfect bend. Ahhhh, white hot first love. Deda Newton…I’ll never forget you. Poems, flowers, big lies to our parents — the requisite stuff of torrid youth. But the Omega Compact: I bought the ring for her. She’s for life. Perhaps we’ll stop selling all other bars.
More FSA. A fashion statement in the form of a belt. It’s actually quite a handsome thing, though it has two drawbacks: It comes sized for what must be the grim Taiwanese conception of average American girth, that is, 38′. It’s as long as fully grown python and it’s made from either (a) real leather, or (b) something thicker and tougher-to-chop than leather. Cutting it to size is a bitch. And it’s left handed. That is, when you look down at your zipper, the belt buckle is on the right. Unbuckling must be done with your left hand. If you’re wearing button-fly jeans it’s an ordeal at the urinal. Nonetheless, I love to wear it. Get yours by contacting FSA at (425) 488-8653.
– Mine is a carefully curated belt collection. It includes this interesting piece from my new employer. I love the caramel belt color. The ‘tomato’ color of the buckle is more difficult to embrace. It’s not a standard red. It’s more orange-y, like a not-yet-ripe tomato, making it a challenge to match to shirts with lots of red in them. But if your shirt has pink or orange highlights, the belt works. And if red is a minor theme it works nicely, too. Compounding the oddity of the hue is that the tang in the back of the buckle isn’t adequately angled to grab the belt hole, so it pops out when you get up from a chair. (No fat jokes, please). You’ll need to bend it with some pliers. Lastly, buy it one waist size bigger than you need. If you buy it for your proper waist size, you’ll cinch it on the first hole and that’s a risky way to live.
– In the spirit of the NAHBS and in honor of all things handmade and artisanal, I present to you a belt buckle purchased by my grandfather in the hinterlands of New Mexico during the Ford Administration. He never made it into a belt. So when he passed away and it came into my possession, I sent it to Lead Hill, Arkansas. I wish I could’ve helped kill the alligator whose hide now hugs my waist with souplesse reminiscent of Maurizio Fondriest’s pedalstroke.
– On the subject of handmade things, and their first cousins Vintage and Sentimental, these people will have to live with this article for the rest of their lives.
– More vintage. This time, 2004. It was the last occasion in which I whooped and hollered at my TV in joy. Blissful, sweet, innocent times.
– No piece of apparel is met with as many demands as winter gloves. Cycling clothing manufacturers are tasked with the near-impossible: Give us wind and water resistant gloves that are nevertheless thin and flexible for easy shifting and braking. Because of this, we’ve been on an endless search to find a company which has achieved the seemingly impossible. A new brand has come upon the radar here: Hestra. This winter is still young, but so far this is proving to be a clearly superior choice.
– ‘Tis the season to crush out hours on the trainer. A recent revelation has been the music service Spotify. It’s proven to be well worth the $10 per month since seemingly every song ever recorded can be found through it. I’ve put together a playlist for my fellow indoor brethren to assist in surviving the monotony of an early morning hour riding nowhere.
– The best piece of cycling journalism of 2012 was, in fact, written in very late 2011. The Inner Ring’s dissection of Team Katusha, called ‘Tinker, tailor, cyclist, spy’, is a story more befitting of The New Yorker. It’s a nice appetizer for the larger dish that, so far, is my book of the year for 2012. It’s named ‘Red Plenty’ by Francis Spufford. Like the Inner Ring’s article, it also revolves around Russia’s mutant economy. On the surface it may seem like awful subject matter for a novel. But Spufford writes breezy-yet-artful prose with an attention-gripping narrative style.
(If your preference isn’t for books with words, I’ve got you covered. Here’s a picture book nearly as germane as Spufford’s.)
In mentioning Dresden at the beginning of his article, The Inner Ring alludes to the deep bonds between Russia and Germany in the post-World War Two era. Those bonds got deeper in 2012 with Canyon Bicycles moving their sponsorship from Team Lotto over to Katusha. I’d say the initial signs are positive for everyone involved.
We’ve had folks ask for an update on where things stand between Competitive Cyclist and Canyon. Admittedly, it’s been a quiet period of late. Unlike last week’s statement about Merlin, this is a relationship with multiple stakeholders. Out of respect for this, I’ll need to remain silent for awhile longer. We’ll make no bones about it, though: It’s a brand we’re mad for, and their leadership team is made of a special group of guys. Expect an update in the reasonably near future. In the meantime, to hold you over, here’s a fascinating story about Canyon’s hometown of Koblenz, Germany.