– Only two weeks after the Competitive Cyclist Racing Team camp, I found myself back in Tucson, this time at the behest of SRAM. The purpose of the trip was to pile miles on its new Red group.
With one part mouthwatering anticipation and another part loathing I threw my leg over the bike SRAM had waiting for me: a Specialized Tarmac SL3. Within the walls of Competitive Cyclist, Specialized is forbidden fruit because of its no-online-sales philosophy.
In truth, the big S (that’s Specialized, not SRAM) is a company to which we owe a lot. Much of the growth of Competitive Cyclist is due to the dramatic success of Specialized. Why does somebody buy a Pinarello or a Santa Cruz? It’s primarily because they’re fine bikes with gobs of technology and style. Yet how many of us feel an urge for uniqueness? Each expresses it in our own way. Clothes, music, the art on your living room walls are common manifestations. And, in the case of Pinarello and Santa Cruz buyers, their purchases can demonstrate a heartfelt desire to stand out from the masses in their local peloton or at the nearby trailhead by not showing up on a Specialized.
Please don’t accuse me of kvetching about Specialized. That’s exactly what I’m not doing here. Rather, it’s because of the success of Specialized in its frame development and distribution, as well as the seeming success in test rides at retail, has made the brand ubiquitous. You can’t win them all. Competitive Cyclist has grown and thrived because of the bike-buying outliers.
I’ve owned two Specialized road bikes. The first was an early 90’s lugged carbon Allez Epic. I’d like to say I remember something noteworthy about how the bike rode, but it was almost 20 years ago. What I do recall is that, at the time, its carbon construction made it exotic. The one well-known fact about the Allez Epic is that nearly all of them broke. Mine met its end on a descent when I maladroitly bunnyhopped a manhole cover. The rear wheel caught the lip of the cover, ripping the chainstays from the bottom bracket shell. Such is the price of early stage materials development.
The second was a Team Festina replica E5 SLX. It was circa 2002, and it remains probably the best aluminum bike I’ve ever owned. Sadly it also had a reputation for breaking. From what I heard, mine was the most common mode of failure: It cracked at a weep hole in the driveside chainstay.
Fast forward to last week’s miles on the Tarmac SL3. Like the E5 SLX, it’s clearly a bike built for racing. Up climbs like that pro training fixture, Gates Pass, it had heaps of drivetrain stiffness. I’m heavy with wintertime blubber and still digging out from snow back home. Yet I clung to the wheels of the fast guys with less agony than I expected. Where the SL3 impressed me deeply was on twisty descents. While it has the jumpy, agile character of a proper race bike, its stability and tracking were superb on descents. Previously the best descending I’ve ever experienced was on a Cervélo R3 SL and the Pinarello Dogma 2. The SL3 earns a podium position alongside them in the downhill category.
My riding in Tucson gave me ample time to sort out my understanding of Specialized. Specialized is the BMW of bikes. The price sensitivity of the 1-Class and the performance-to-value proposition of the 3-Class make it so that you can’t drive further than about three parking spaces without passing a BMW. Yes, they’re a bit off-putting in their omnipresence. But, Good Lord, who wouldn’t be stoked to own an M5? You can overcome a lot with a test ride where you’re overwhelmed by a sense of owning the road. That, I think, is why so many Tarmacs are out there.
– If money were no object, this is absolutely, positively the watch I would buy. For a generation of bike-mad kids, this sponsorship made TAG the most glamorous watch brand for life.
– This is last week’s greatest photo ever. The ’89 Giro:
– Speaking of photos, we crowned Jered Gruber as our 2011 Photographer Of The Year. If you follow him via Twitter or Facebook (and you should if you don’t), you’ve probably noticed his increasing use of Instagram. He’s been training like hell to do springtime racing in Belgium, so I understand why his photography is taking a backseat. Nevertheless, Instagram exists to give an illusion of photographic skill for folks who have none. As we all know, that’s not Jered’s situation. I hope that as he gets into his race season he figures out a way to put his iPhone down and pick up his big boy camera again.
If you have an academic streak, then I recommend this article. It’s a nice exploration of why the ‘faux-vintage’ sheen of Instagram and Hipstamatic photos has grown in popularity in direct proportion to the explosion of social media.
Great photos hinge on context and narrative. They don’t make an app for that. Compare the two photos below, which are faintly related by subject matter. Which one do you want to know more about?
– Did you know that the UCI has an iPhone app?
– Marty Jemison is a storied American domestique with a track record for exploiting opportunities on the rare occasions they arose for him. In case you hadn’t heard, he’s now part of the Competitive Cyclist customer service group. We’re stoked to have him part of our staff since he’s got an indisputable command of the ways in which the right equipment can make a difference. He’s a hell of a nice guy. And, oh man, yes he can still ride.
For the history buffs, here’s a clipping from The Sunday Times in 1998 (the same photo also appeared on the front page of l’Équipe.) It was taken during one of the many days of the ’98 Tour de France which produced a volatile conflagration of police, media, and a bike race. This particular day turned into a rider protest. As Marty told me, ‘Most of the other riders had taken off their numbers and I just couldn’t bring myself to do it. It was a confusing day and finally I decided that if my number was coming off that I would ask Marco Pantani to do it, which he did. As soon as he started to peel off my number the cameras went crazy.’