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The Cancellaric Effect

– Bike guilty of stealing my heart, #1: Olmo Sintex. Columbus SLX tubing, circa 1988. It was beautiful opalescent green -- the sort of paint you don’t see anymore since multi-coat richness like that isn’t friendly to the gram scale. Best part was that it matched the stone in the class ring of the girl I was chasing at the time. Olmo: One of the countless once-great Italian brands gone the way of the dinosaur.

– Note to the world: We’re hiring for 4 different positions here. Resumés are welcome.

– If you choose to be attentive to such things, you might believe based on the reporting on Bike Retailer and Bike Europe that E-Bikes are the future of bike-riding society & the bike industry. Some stories have you believe it’s the present, and not the future, and the relentlessness of such tales propelled me to give one a ride last week.

1 minute is all you need. The mere act of straddling an E-Bike is sure to get your BS detector red-lining. The battery (encased in an innocuous plastic shell on a rack above the rear wheel) weighs as much as a Die Hard. Like most, I’m accustomed to the dainty heft of a race bike. Who doesn’t stick their bike on a roof rack using 3 fingers, maybe 4? By comparison, tipping over an E-bike to get your leg over is the clean & jerk from hell. Bike + battery must weigh 75lbs, as I learned when it nearly crushed me during my attempted tippy-toe leg throw.

If bodily strength is the rule in terms of mounting an E-bike, the opposite is true of riding one. I’m not an engineer, but my understanding is that its motor somehow supplements the drivetrain with an amount of power approximately equal to the wattage of your pedaling power. For a reasonably fit amateur bike racer, the effect is Cancellaric. With moderate effort you accelerate with miraculous, headsnapping velocity.

It’s taken you years to sync into your personal algorithm of depth of pain: rate of speed. Throw it away. The same holds true of what we know about societal road miles ridden: rider fatalities. What I learned on my ride is that an E-Bike is anything but a bike. Rather, it’s a moped with a tuned-down motor. It has no part of the bike industry, and has no place in bike shops or on bike trails. E-Bike skeptics here in the US say the idea is hard-pressed to work because America lacks in bike infrastructure, i.e. bike paths and safe routes to school/work/market. But the opposite is true: E-Bikes have too much sizzle. They’re too fast, too heavy, and entirely too separate from the experience of riding a bicycle to be put amongst them. Please, bike industry, please, leave these to Honda and Suzuki, and make sure they use normal lanes of traffic, not bike lanes & paths. Is it not too late?

– Bike guilty of stealing my heart, #2: Colnago C40, early Mapei vintage. Somehow in the process of installing a new quill stem I broke the bonded steel steerer off the fork crown. Apparently this was a common occurrence in early edition C40’s. God bless the early adopter. How did any of us survive the 90’s?

– Political correctness is killing our sport. First this. And then this. What’s next? Team cars restricted to Priuses only? I’d pay to have this painted on my street.

– We probably shouldn’t blame Bill Strickland for the title of his upcoming book, ‘Tour de Lance.’ It’s possible that the publisher may have saddled it with a pun that even desperate newspaper copy editors abandoned years ago.

His job, of course, was to deliver on the subtitle: ‘The Extraordinary Story of Lance Armstrong’s Fight to Reclaim the Tour de France.’ Since we all know how that battle turned out, how did Strickland fare? He indirectly offers his own review of the book on page 281: ‘When I got home from the Tour de France, everyone I knew asked me what it had been like,’ he wrote. ‘I could tell stories about the 2009 Tour all day. But I couldn’t seem to tell anyone what it was like.’ To put it another way, Strickland wrote the game, not the story. The world probably doesn’t need a 288-page rehash of Armstrong’s 2009 racing season. A book about motivation behind Armstrong’s return, however, is another matter.

Clearly Strickland, or maybe his editor, reached the same conclusion if rather late in the game. ‘I realized that if I wanted to hold on to whatever it was I’d felt out there that had seemed so important about the comeback, whatever it was that made Lance Armstrong’s ride at the Tour so vital and raw, I was going to have to talk to him about it,’ Strickland writes. After you recover from all those personal pronouns, you should know that only eight pages remain in the book.

Why did it take him until then to consider that speaking with Armstrong might have some value? ‘I’d done exactly the right thing by not formally interviewing him during the season . . . I just hung around, hour after hour and day after day of race after race, and I learned more than I would have even if I’d coaxed Armstrong to sit down for a formal interview in which he’d have given me formal answers. But now I needed to, as his friend had said, interview the shark.’

Even a devilishly skilled interviewer would be hard pressed to hang a book on a single telephone interview, particularly with Armstrong. It’s not giving anything away to say that Strickland, much like Armstrong on the bike last season, doesn’t pull off a miracle.

Inevitably, the books hinges on Armstrong at the Tour. Strickland did some of his hanging around many other races including the Giro. But as an account of those races and the Tour, the book is oddly unsatisfying. The central characters in most of the chapters aren’t, well, central: Johan Bruyneel (Strickland wrote his autobiography), Chris Carmichael and Viatcheslav Ekimov. Other riders, with the bizarre exception of Fausto Coppi, are barely sketched out. Contador and the rest of the peloton come and go as necessary to suit the needs of Armstrong’s story (and Strickland’s hanging around yarns).

Dan Coyle wrote ‘Lance Armstrong’s War’ long before Armstrong’s comeback attempt. Perhaps because he and Strickland have the same literary agent, Coyle provided a blurb declaring ‘Tour de Lance’ to be ‘the definitive inside account of one of the greatest sporting comebacks of all time.’ He’s wrong. Even though ‘Lance Armstrong’s War’ was written long before Armstrong’s return, it remains the only book that offers some real insight into what drives Armstrong as well an inside look at his life.

– Bike guilty of stealing my heart, #3: Specialized SLX E5 S-Works, Festina Edition. Possibly the best-riding aluminum bike I ever owned. That is, until it broke at the driveside chainstay. A clean crack went around the circumference of the stay and went right through the weep hole (remember those?) Apparently the weep hole was positioned too close to the dropout, hence what were apparently all-too-common breakages.

– We’ve all had childhood nightmares of being naked at the bus stop. We’ve all had collegiate nightmares of being thrust on stage at the arena rock show, guitar-in-hand, with no idea of how to play. And when you’re PRO you have nightmares just like this (fast forward to 0:36) --

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