Archive | August, 2013

Yes, You Should Probably Just Get Cyclocross Tubulars

30 Aug

Pile of CX tires

And no, you don’t need this many. // by Patrick Beeson, cc-by-nc

If you’re having a blast on a burp-free tubeless set-up, or have never pinched out on the bell lap/hammered yourself into oblivion on 45psi with clinchers, this post isn’t for you. Tubular tires are not a necessity for racing or enjoying cyclocross. If whatever you’re doing works, and you don’t feel like your tires are holding you back, you just keep on doing your thing. ‘Cross is awesome.

That said, I’m betting that if you are reading this, you’ve probably had some issues with tubeless or clincher set-ups, and you’re wondering if you should undergo the “expense” and “hassle” of “out-dated” tubular tires. The answer is a categorical “yes”.

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How The Race Was Won – USA Pro Challenge 2013

28 Aug

If the event is looking a bit unsettled about its name, may I suggest “Tour of Colorado”?

Sorry it’s a bit late, and afraid I won’t be doing HTRWW for the Vuelta due to some time zone issues and day job time constraints. That said, there’s more going on over the next months than 21 days of riding in Spain, so stay tuned.

[iPad/iPhone/m4v]

Rantcast #14 – The Myth of The Infallible LBS

15 Aug

Well, had some people complain about censoring the profanity last time which is fine—since this edition of the Rantcast is probably going to piss the living shit out of everyone anyway it probably won’t matter. Last time around, my beef was what cycling commentators weren’t saying, this week it’s on what the industry won’t shut up about— idiotic myth of the infallibility local bike shop.

Ask rep or pro or insider bro or reviewer about a part and 98% of the time you’ll be told that “Oh yeah—just ask at your local bike shop.” “Your local shop will take care of you”.

I don’t even know where to begin. Actually, I do know where to begin—the fact that a lot of local shops are just lousy. Can we say that? Can we get that out there? It’s almost like an omerta—there are certain shops that you shouldn’t go to, that everyone knows about, but still people are like “Oh yeah, the local shop. Your local shop. Check out our nearest dealer” Not “Blah-blah-blah’s Cycles”. Not “Where do you live? Ok avoid So-and-So’s, but check out Shop X”.

Yeah, and, actually—I shouldn’t have complained about that, because by that same token, I have to talk by name about all the shops that…caused some trouble. Like the The Spoke, in Williamstown MA, that got seized by the State for nonpayment of taxes…with my bike inside! Or Paramount Cycles in Somerville, MA that “saved me some money” by re-using a section of brake housing over a shifter cable—like, bro, if I’d wanted a half-ass job, I would have done it myself.

Or Cambridge Cycles, that gave me the wrong sized track nut despite my very specific instructions or International Bicycle Center in Boston where the Trek Minion there liked to try and swap the parts I’d ordered for cheaper gear, and who vehemently objected to my team purchase of a Surly Cross-Check because it “wasn’t a race bike”—no big deal that I raced it to a Cat 3 Verge Series Top 10 4 years later, long after the Sora equipped XO he wanted me to buy would have shat the bed. Oh, and just last week, the closest bike shop to my location, Central Wheel in Farmington, CT told me that SRAM’s 1.1 cables were just regular cables with a teflon coating.

Of course, none of this is to say that these are “bad” shops, or that there aren’t good ones out there—Cambridge Cycle’s screw up lead me to Broadway Bicycle School and it’s most excellent filing system. Landry’s in Boston never made me feel like a heel when I stopped in to buy a cassette spacer, or ask for an insurance replacement quote after a crash, or any other menial little task that brought them essentially no income. And Cheshire Cycle in Hamden CT always took great care of me—though, unfortunately, they’re also 35 miles away from my house.

And really, distance is a big part of the user experience from my point of view. In Boston, I had my choice of shop, open late and at bikeable distance. But in Hartford (as I would be in much of the rest of the country) I’m fighting to get into a car and out of the city like all the other suburban drones, racing to somehow get from my late-closing office to an early closing bikeshop, burning dollars and a few kilograms of CO2 for the effort. And once I’m there, the shop’s limited supply—what sizes and brands they happen to have on the wall are my only option.

Let’s contrast this with The Internet—I have massive retailers like TreeFort, PricePoint, Nashbar and etc, ready for me to place orders or peruse their wares at anytime, from my home, or office, or even from my phone midway through a ride. And finding what I want is so easy—search by terms, sort by price, by wheel size, by brand. Navigate to a section to see what the have. Google Products search compares price across outlets, and ebay provides more or less real-time information on what an actual, open market price for a given gizmo is.  Oh, and did I mention the bevy of searchable forums covering tips, horror stories and clever compatibility tricks on everything from from fixed gear to freeride?

In a physical shop, I’m dealing with the collective knowledge of maybe five, six guys, each of whom has a financial incentive to goad me into spending as much as possible in return for as little as they can get away with giving. Chances are, if I ask a salesman highly-specific question, which I am known to do, two or three other people or going to have to weigh in, then there’s probably gonna be an upsell attempt, followed by a “well, let’s see what we can do on price”. Some people like to haggle; me, I find it exhausting, time-consuming, disingenuous, and a sure sign that I will almost certain get a better deal elsewhere.

There’s a train a of thought—and one that I don’t deny—that says the shop costs more because of all the value it adds. And for certain consumers—dentists, I believe is the industry term—the local LBS as it currently exists does provide a tremendous amount of value. Something breaks, needs to be tuned, its just kinda old and gross looking—no big deal. No need to get your hands dirty or struggle through a new skill. Just drop off the bike, the shop fixes it, the dentist saves time, gets some status bling, shop and suppliers get paid, everyone wins—no wonder dentists have been the industry’s sole focus for the past decade.

But the problem with the Dentist Model is that there aren’t that many dentists, those that are out there are getting older and/or more tech savvy, and the demographics where bike use is rising the fastest—young people and minorities—tend not to have the massive throwaway income to feed the LBS, which, at least in it’s current incarnation is allegedly infallible and should be the consumers only point of contact for anything to do with a bike.

And really, the cycling industry itself—I know, I know, a too massively amorphous and heterogeneous entity to collectively demonize—is at the heart of this mess. A few months ago, I broke a derailleur. I got it all sorted out eventually—a rant for another time—but during the

discussion a SRAM rep said the company never ships parts to customers. Ever.

Think about that—the company that makes parts for people’s bikes doesn’t ship them to people. it’s bizarre, right—”sorry, sir, I refuse your offer of monetary units for the product I produce. Please bring your monetary units to this third party instead”—and it’s because to SRAM, Trek, Lazer, and pretty much every other company in the industry, you aren’t the customer. The shop is. And to keep the shops buying their stuff, the industry needs consumer buy-in to the shop model. Thus the infallible shop myth.

Shops let industry brands sell a whole lot of their stuff all at once. Much, much easier to deal with dozens of customers instead of thousands. A lot easier to collect money and set budgets when there’s a big predictable, post-Interbike cash dump. And as stock merchandise, bicycles are really crummy. They take up a lot of space, the margins suck, there’s a non-trivial labor investment in each model after getting them in, and as I mentioned before, there’s an Internet full of outlets offering them at a better price.

And yet, the infallible shop myth lives. For the past decade and a half I’ve witnessed and endured all sorts of abuse from industry insiders for buying online and doing my own work. “Hey man, don’t you like riding? Why are you trying to hurt the thing you like?” “Oh, well, you didn’t go through the shop, you get what’s coming to you.” The latest villainy is so called “showrooming” where people research prices and find out as much as they can about a given part before making a final purchase, like, you know, an informed consumer would. Do it at a car dealership, or a computer store, or when you’re getting a loan—right on, man. Do it at a bike shop—you’re a schmuck.

I feel like this petty hypocrisy—we need to fleece consumers so we can keep making rad stuff, man—has kind of toxified the industry, and drawn thick battle lines along existing business relationships, lest the whole house of cards fall. Case in point: last week, a QBP guy who worked on the Lazer Helmets account complained vocally about CrossVegas’ registration system Twitter. Then CrossVegas got in touch to Lazer—a sponsor of the race—who made a call to QBP, which got said internet complainer fired.

Or maybe that isn’t how it happened. The Helmeteer_Chris Internet entity, who I don’t know, but who works for Lazer, and who generally surfaces pretty cool Internet bike stuff suggested there was more to it, but really, what could he possibly say? Confess his employer feel into a perfect storm of douchery between two of its business partners?  Factually and morally correct as that might actually be, he wouldn’t be very good at his job if he did that.  So, for all concerned, the message stands: don’t step out and challenge the system, even if the system sucks. It’s cool—industry bros made nice at the end. It’s the the people outside the system that fucked up. Now why does that sound so familiar?

There must be, there HAS to be, something in this status quo for the local shops—beyond, obviously, the joy of being presented as infallible. but for the LIFE of me, I cannot figure out what it is. It sure isn’t the money. The industry’s own numbers suggest an average dealer sees 25k in annual income—not exactly a retirement figure. It’s not the ease of the day-to-day work, either—I’ve seen massive urban shops, top 10 grossers for national brands, half a million into the red. I’ve seen small, efficient, brilliantly-run operations fail. Aside from the comfort of a familiar environment, I don’t really get why anyone would chose to run LBS under the model that currently exists.

So if this aura of infallibility shop sucks for the shop, and it sucks for the consumers. It would seem to me that time is ripe for a change. Despite everything I said back at the beginning of this, there are thing shops can offer consumers that the internet can’t. Quality tools, stands, a clean, well-ordered workspace. Skilled hands. In-the-moment advice when pressing a headset or trying to figure out which bottom bracket to buy. These are the things non-dentists need—real riders (actually, I’m stepping back from this a bit [see comment])—and they’re increasingly scarce at the among the salesmen and accessory racks in today’s shops.

There’s also an immediacy that shops can meet that the Internet will never be able to. Broken chains, snapped cables, cracked handlebars, stems to soothe an aching back—things that cannot wait for shipping. A bike shop should have components—tiny, easy to manage, low-overhead parts—in droves, in stock, compatible across as many brands and standards as possible, from newest models, and refurbed take-offs to be sold for a song. But in my experience, requests for this one meatspace service no online dealer could ever provide are met with the depressing response of, “sure, our QBP order arrives in on Thursday”.

Of course, this new, consumer-focused approach would require a certain openness on the part of an industry that as I said earlier, tends to be anything but. An admission that 2012 model is more or less as good as a 2013. An admission that ounces off a three pound frame underneath a hundred-fifty pound man will have an all but a negligible impact performance. An admission that 95% of repairs and installations can accomplished by anyone with patience and a $5 set of allen keys as easily as they can by a sixty-dollar-an-hour mechanic. An admission that things are cheaper somewhere else, and maybe you should

buy them there.

Is the industry even capable of this sort of openness? it once was. I certainly wouldn’t be here reading this if the late Sheldon Brown hadn’t codified online, in detail, and for free, every skill he’d acquired and opinion he’d developed in a lifetime of turning wrenches. Back 2001, my old Iron Horse hardtail would have stayed broken, and I never would have been able to restore a decades-old hunk of dented steel from the abandoned bike pile at campus security into a fast, reliable, and dirt cheap road machine.

The de facto state of affairs, with its infallible shops and Dentist ready approach has to change. The demographics of age and income demand it. The real question is how much damage those who profit from the current system are willing to incur upon their brands—and on the newbie retail consumers who, at the end of the day, are the only ones keeping the whole machine running. If the sticker price at your local shop is any indication, plenty of places out there are ready to double-down on the infallibility myth.

Rantcast #13 – The Lance Problem

2 Aug

Script

(not verbatim, contains typos, and sometimes I go off-book)

Yeah, so breaking news last week—did you know cyclists were doping in the 1998 Tour de France? I know, right? Didn’t see that one coming, despite the fact that during that year a Team Festina car got caught at the French Boarder with 250 vials of EPO, six teams dropped out, everyone on the podium had already admitted to doping anyway, and the Festina Affair is like, the model against which every successive doping scandal is assessed, but beyond that—COMPLETE SURPRISE.

But hey, French Senate, you do what you gotta do. As Anglophone, I’m dangerously low on Jacky Durand news, so I’m psyched to read his no-BS mea culpa. Stuart O’Grady, I wish I could believe more, but with so many of his Gan teammates still relying on clean-ish images (and who are missing samples from ‘98), the I-only-doped-once-did-it-alone thing is too pert and convenient, 15 years after the fact. And Zabel—well, consensus seems to be that you were always an [expletive].

Oh, and Kevin Livingston. Don’t even know what to make of that guy. Part of me despises him for not talking more other parts of me kinda respect the fact that he hasn’t taken to the opinion pages of the Wall Street Journal or New York Times, with no ulterior motive whatsoever I’m sure, to tell us all he doped.

Anyway, in the fallout from this, Cyclingnews has, for some reason or other, decided to ask Lance Armstrong for comment which is just like—I mean, c’mon it’s [expletive] Lance. Obviously the—how old is he now?—obviously the guy doing his hardest to “win” being the most disgraced drug cheat in history. A sample quote: “Bikes, beer, and 18 holes of golf every afternoon. I wasn't exactly curled up in the foetal position…thousands of supportive people…I’m the whipping boy”.

He’s like a petulant child sent to his room, being like “oh hey, just here in my room, playing with all my awesome toys. I’m here because I’m a scapegoat, not because I did anything wrong, but whatever, it is what it is. Did I mention how awesome all these toys are? Especially this 22 year old Barbie doll?”

But whatever—Lance is Lance, like it or not, and he’s still been the dominant figure in the sport for the past two decades. Although, if you’d come out of a 16-year-coma earlier this year, you’d be hard-pressed to know that.  For some reason, NBC Cycling’s Tour coverage was utterly and completely devoid of Lance Armstrong footage—a laughably stark turnaround from a year ago, when their commentator Phil Liggett couldn’t stop talking about how innocent Armstrong was.

This to my mind, is the wrong approach. Don’t get me wrong, I dislike Armstrong about as anyone he didn’t directly blackmail, harass, impugne, sue, insult or otherwise make miserable—which is actually puts me in a surprisingly small group. But that doesn’t make

never mentioning anything he did—and by extension, nearly ever Tour de France for the past 14 years—somehow justifiable.

Cycling, you may have heard, has a problem with “omertas”—the aforementioned Kevin Livingston might be presented as a good example. This propensity toward the powerfully undiscussable in and of itself is reason not to put anything on a Do Not Mention list, in the same way that one might hesitate to prescribe oxycodone to a recovering heroin addict.

But more specifically, not mentioning Lance prevents anyone from the sullen discomfort of  reflecting on what actually happened during the Lance Era. On the Champs Elysees last weekend, we had Miguel Indurain, Eddy Merckx, and Greg Lemond being awarded ceremonial yellow jerseys…for some reason or other. Notably absent was Lance Armstrong, of course—or anyone else from his years in the sport. Nice, and tidy, really—let’s just forget that any of it has ever happened.

Of course, this is Miguel Indurain who, based on his his contemporaries and coaches, was almost certainly as doped as Armstrong, Eddy Merckx, who at the very least tested positive during the ‘69 Giro, and Greg Lemond, who…well, insert your rumor here. But hey—we solved the problem of the “dirty years” by agreeing to pretending they never happened.

Take this interview Velonews did with USAC figurehead Steve Johnson, who said quote “It’s the entire cycling industry…who got pulled along by that vortex of the Lance Armstrong story. And nobody has to apologize for that. It just happened.” Which, frankly, is about as horrific a denial of responsibility as anyone could possibly offer. “Well, we were all part of the mob, so let’s just agree it’s no one’s fault”.

Aside from being morally reprehensible—as if anyone cares about that—it’s also factually inaccurate. I mean, the entire Lance Armstrong Saga is rife with skeptics, detractors and doubting Thomases nearly all of whom suffered unduly, and who all deserve an apology from USAC, if for no other reason than Armstrong hasn’t offered one.

Then there are a bevy of self-motivated researchers and writers—“wankers”, I suppose Brad Wiggins might term them—who did the footwork on numbers of drug tests, the UCI’s unwillingness to enforce its own rules, pulling back the curtains on the the 1999 samples, among a host of other details that lead to Armstrong’s downfall. This is a matter of record—the Times, as they say, was on it—and since USAC effectively turned a blind eye to all these people before Armstrong was persona non grata, I think this another group to whom Steve Johnson owes an apology.

But most concerningly of all, is this rank unwillingness on Johnson’s part—and indeed, among most of those involved in the public face of the sport during the period of Armstrong Hagiography—to recognize that there are other people involved in cycling now who both didn’t reap direct Lance benefits, and who weren’t in a position to challenge the general Let-it-Ride attitude. Johnson’s interviewer Matthew Beaudin, for example, wasn’t hired by Velonews until well after the federal investigation against Armstrong—the information that later became the USADA case—was collected.

Let’s go back to that NBC commentary team and their unwillingness to mention Lance. Among that group, you’ve got Phil, as I said one of Lance’s staunchest and most self-deluded supporters, Paul, his commentary partner who worked with Armstrong on the Motorola squad, and Bob Roll, who famously accompanied Armstrong on his comeback training camp and has some pretty [expletive] crazy ideas about doping and the French generally.

Now, I’m sure there was some sort of pre-show instruction not to mention Lance—who wants to be reminded that maybe what they’re watching isn’t pure, or true, or believable, or whatever corny aphorism you want to use to ascribe to shirking intellectual burden of uncertainty. But as in the case of the USAC, it also lets a group of people who are very much culpable in Armstrong’s subterfuge stand before the world without offering a proper, long-delayed apology.

I’m not saying we need to put them in the stocks and pelt them with expired FRS samples. A simple statement during the opening or closing features for the Tour would have sufficed. Something along the lines of  “hey—we’re sorry about what Lance did. We’re sorry we helped propagate the myth, and we’re sorry that we didn’t apply a more critical eye to his performances, even after legitimate, meaningful doubts were raised. We failed you as an audience, and we’ll try to do better in the future”.

As a fan, it’s something I’d sure like to hear, and frankly, it’s just not that hard to do. Why, just last week, I got unnecessarily mad at Team Belkin on the internet, realized my error, and apologized. It’s good to acknowledge when you’re wrong about something, becuase it shows people you care about being right, and that you honestly would like to avoid making similar mistakes down the line.

And really, for all the drugs and doping and everything that’s come to light since, the Lance Tours did occasionally provide some pretty good racing—especially in 2003. To have essentially none of it mentioned by the exclusive US rights holder to save face or present a “safer” package—except obviously and awkwardly during one paid placement feature for Orbea, is a disservice to fans—past is prologue, especially at the Tour. That’s kind of what I was getting at with the “banned word list” in the Tour How The Race Was Wons—ignoring the past will only bring up uncomfortable questions that make eventually revealing the facts of record more awkward.

Finally, addressing the cheating and ambiguity of the EPO Era like mature adults opens the door for real, cutting-edge analysis—things like what Science of Sport blog and various archivists are doing comparing VAMs and historical times. The idea isn’t, as Antoine Vayer or Frankie Andreu seem to think, to “prove” doping, but to draw parallels, to see how performance is evolving, and to keep the lines of conversation open lest we be once again limited to codewords like extra-terrestrial and not normal. Not to mention the fact that all this data is also pretty cool. If you’re listening to me now, you probably agree that the niftiest aspects of road cycling come from sussing out exactly how the the race was won. If one rider’s superpower is a steady 20 minute effort, while another thrives on tempo changes, that’s a pretty cool thing to know as they slug it out on the side of a mountain.

And in the end, this decision ignore rather than address The Lance Problem is just another example of what I mentioned after last years Tour—the best analysis and the most compelling coverage in the sport of cycling comes from fans, not broadcasters. With alleged professionals like Wilcockson and Liggett and Abt still unapologetically mired in “complex characters”, “jealousy”, and “rip Lance time”, and their more serious colleagues often reporting on stories that come out of social media, it’s not something I see getting better anytime soon.

The Cyclocosm rantcast is written, read, recorded and produced by me, Cosmo Catala

no, to expose the rank artificiality of the firewall between production and talent. It’s recorded on the 2nd floor of a sloppily-renovated apartment in Hartford CT, to drive home the point that tremendous up-front costs are no harbinger of a quality product. I blog and put all of my cool cycling stuff on the web at Cyclocosm.com, I tweet about cycling using the handle @Cyclocosm, there’s a Tumblr at cyclocosm.tumblr.com, and if you search for Cyclocosm on facebook, Google Plus you will probably eventually run across my page.