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Long live single file bike racing

– In bike racing the greatest obstacle isn’t the climbs. It isn’t the wind. It’s the dude five spots ahead of you who loses the wheel in front of him and you don’t notice ’til the gap is 6 lengths long. Single-file bike racing is destructive like nothing else. Long live single-file bike racing.

– Watching a 10am Cialis commercial during Stage 1 of the Tour and seeing a mid-40’s woman give a handjob to a brass staircase handrail in front of me & my 3 kids has driven me to this: I’ll mail a $250 Competitive Cyclist Gift Card to the first person who can provide easily-followed step-by-step directions for masking my IP address so I won’t get blocked by geo-restricted on-line feeds of the Tour de France. Here’s the important part: Our firewalls & IT security are like Fort Knox here, so I can’t do anything to my static IP address that’ll restrict my ability to do work while I watch. Is that possible? At home I’m on a dynamic IP. Can you give instructions for both (static vs. dynamic) if they’re different? I’ll give you $250, and you’ll be nominated for sainthood by the readers of this column…

– Like most, I got a good laugh from the Specialized TV commercial during Stage 1 where Fabian Cancellara goes Inside the Actor’s Studio to thank the Gods of Body Geometry for optimizing his TT positioning. And it was either immediately before or after this ad that I saw Jens Voigt’s TT bar set up. Just because your headtube is short & your base bar is slammed low, it doesn’t necessarily mean your frontal area is small. Those aero bar supports have to be a good 15cm high.

– We’re in the business of bikes here, we’re not merchants of cultural cool. Because of this I restrain myself from talking about how much I like recipe X or album Y or book Z if they are unrelated to bikes. Case in point in a recent book called ‘The Photographer’ by a trio of French artists which, away from this column, I would wholeheartedly recommend. I mention it here for only one reason: It turns out that one of the authors of the book, the photojournalist Didier Lefevre, took time out of documenting war and famine for only one other thing: Paris-Roubaix. It’s eerie to see photos of the race here in context of Africa, Afghanistan, and Kosovo (scroll down the page a bit.) Their stark black-and-white composition has all the earmarks of a Rouleur spread -- but given that these were races shot in 2001 and 2004 they pre-date Rouleur’s existence by years. Stirring stuff. And, by the way, you really should read ‘The Photographer.’

– We don’t lack in business data here at Competitive Cyclist. But sometimes I’m lost about what to do with it. It’s a familiar feeling, then, to review participation numbers at the recently-held US Master’s Nationals Road Championships in Louisville, KY. I’m trying to makes heads from tails but I can’t. Who would’ve guessed that 60-64 participation would outnumber 30-34? I would’ve figured 30-39 would be chock-full of frustrated Cat 2’s trying to get a jersey. But 40-54 is where the body count is highest.

– Speaking of Master’s Nats, standing on the start line of the RR I started doing my own version of the legendary Slowtwitch Kona Bike Count, i.e. tallying how many people were on Zipp wheels, Fizik saddles, Power Tap, SRM, etc, etc but as we stood and stood and stood I lost interest in the minutiae and instead admired how 62 guys could seemingly devise 62 different ways to deal with rear skewer positioning. Under the chainstay, between the stays, horizontal-facing-backwards, just-behind-the-seatstay, and so on and so forth. Nothing in cycling is less standardized than rear skewer positioning and I’m open to advice on what’s optimal.

– Paging Summit County, CO customers, we need a bit of advice. We just got back from a spell in Breckenridge and did some amazing rides but one that didn’t work out so well was our attempt to climb the Loveland Pass. We were fired up by anecdotes like ‘I once saw Tony Rominger on his Colnago Bi-Titan in full CLAS kit climbing it…’ so we headed over Swan Mountain Road and wended our way through the summer ghost town of Keystone and started heading up Hwy 6 and within 500 meters had one oncoming 18-wheeled tanker truck rocket down past us, then had two roar by just a foot or two away. The shoulder was narrow and half of it was unusable under inches of sand. After 2 minutes my survival instinct overtook me and I turned around.

I fully understand & appreciate that the main purpose of the Loveland Pass nowadays is to keep the Hazmat trucks out of the Eisenhower Tunnel on I-70. I don’t begrudge the need to haul liquid nitrogen across Colorado. Rather, my question is why this climb gets props as a must-do ride route. The wealth of mind-blowing riding in Summit County is astounding. Am I over-sensitive, or does the legend of the Loveland Pass overshadow reality? What if I admit that Hwy 9 north out of Silverthorne towards the Ute Pass scared the hell out of me too?

These frights aside, I’m still awed at the riding around Breck. I’ve done the Boulder thing umpteen times, but getting into the real mountains was like going to the Alps. I was utterly disarmed and not unlike my maiden voyage to le Tour in 2003 when I got home and immediately built myself up a Laurent Jalabert-edition Look 381 to celebrate my intoxication of all things France, I have an irresistible urge to buy a Moots Compact in celebration of my new favorite country, Colorado.

– I built a travel bike with Dura Ace 7900 so I could finally sink my teeth into Shimano’s finest. After 2+ years very happily married to SRAM Red (and after reading plenty of ‘First Impressions’ reviews of 7900 that were lukewarm) I wasn’t expecting anything jaw-dropping. I’ve been on it long enough now that a few comments are in order. I’ll limit myself to one subject: The STI levers. In short, the ergonomics are phenomenal. They are reminiscent of Record-10, but with more width, especially at the peak of the hoods. Combine this meatiness with the fact that Shimano eliminated the plunging downward hook in the hoods, these are the most comfy levers I’ve ever felt. One little bonus is how perfectly your index fingers wrap around the front of the hood peaks.

Beyond comfort is the shifting quality itself. While the front shifting isn’t mind-blowing, I’ve come to appreciate the benefits of shifting-while-braking -- something you can’t easily do on either Campy or SRAM. But with 7900 you can slam on the brakes or simply feather them, and do so while you shift up into an easier cog. This is a big plus on technical descents or in hairy corners in a crit. And 7900 easily has the most friction-free rear shifting of any system I’ve ridden. As we’ve mentioned time & again, SRAM Red has lousy cables and the drag inherent to them is the one drawback of an otherwise admirable gruppo. And Campy shifting, while precise, has a ratchety-mechanical feel you’d never describe as silken, which is exactly how I’d characterize the shifts with 7900. I don’t know if it’s due to the internals of the shifters or something amazing with the cables. In any event, the shifts -- especially the upshifts -- go a long way to justifying the cost of 7900.

Downsides? The fact that you can only downshift one gear at a time is a bummer. Even more of a headache is the length of the throw required to trigger downshifts. When you look at how short the downshift throw is on both Campy and SRAM, it seems as though you need to push the small STI lever about 3 times as far. If Shimano could cut that throw distance in half it’d likely negate our unhappiness about only being able to downshift one cog per shift. And one other bummer is the length of the lever from the peak of the hood back to the rearmost edge of the hood. It’s so long that if you switch from SRAM to 7900 you’ll need to decrease your stem length by 1cm. Since long-ish stems are PRO, this doesn’t suit our sense of vanity.

– Blogging 1, Twitter 0. The folks behind cyclingfansanonymous made the leap from blogging to Twitter back in February. They said it was a protest because the UCI wasn’t releasing blood passport results. And we’re sure that part of the change was because Twitter is easy and blogging paragraph-length thoughts ain’t. They said they wouldn’t blog again ’til the UCI started naming names, and now that Pietro Caucchioli and Igor Astarloa have been offered up as sacrificial lambs, cyclingfansanonymous is back in the blogging business. Hooray!

The funny thing is this: Our worldviews are significantly different, especially as it pertains to Paul Kimmage and David Millar. CFA sees doping as universally inexcusable, where we see mitigating socio-economic circumstances that make it understandable. And they take it very, very personally. These (and other) differences aside, we’re nonetheless big fans. It’s one of the best aggregations of good reading about the ProTour scene. Do yourself a favor and RSS it.

– A rule that needs a name: In less than 10km into a race you’ll ID the one guy in the pack you know you’d best avoid. He’s squirrely when he’s riding bar-to-bar. Or he lets gaps open through hairy turns. Or he digs a pedal in corners. You’ll know who it is within 10km. And you’ll end up spending more time throughout the race on his wheel or right next to him than anybody else in the pack. It’s unavoidable. It’s bike racing law. It’s a rule that needs a name.

– I spend little time paying attention to the current policy debate on revamping US health care for one simple reason: We already pay for 100% of our employees’ health benefits. Nothing is being proposed that will exceed what we already offer, so it’s a non-issue for us. But articles like this get me wondering.

In talking with sales reps and distributors and manufacturers, they all bemoan one fact: Their LBS accounts have almost universally coped with the current US recession in the same way: They’ve substantially pared back their on-hand inventory. They order less and they’re stocking less so they’ll owe less. That seems like a reasonable strategy, especially if the LBS is careful about not pissing off customers by running out of key merchandise.

What will the impact be, then, if/when LBS’ who don’t provide their employees health insurance get a government mandate to do so? If health care expense gets ratcheted up, it’ll come right out of the inventory open to buy, no? Shops already running super-lean on inventory end up with no other choice but to get even leaner. This can’t be good for the LBS, and it can’t be good for its customers.

While the National Bike Dealer Association (NBDA) provides insightful economic data about the retail landscape, I don’t believe they ask this fundamental question of participating LBS’: Do you provide health benefits to your employees? Next time you’re in your favorite LBS, ask the wrench or the salesman. I’d be curious to know.