Archive | Rant RSS feed for this section

Cycling’s Sponsor-Branded Teams p/b Financial Instability

11 May

I like a lot of what Vaughters says here, but the problem is that cycling can’t have a franchise system until it has actual franchises. I mean, Vaughters’ own squad—officially Slipstream Sports LLC—hasn’t ever been called by that name. Manchester United, in contrast, has remained Manchester United, whether Sharp, AIG, or Chevy is emblazoned across the chest.

This enduring team brand is a major reason why the franchise system is successful. That “I gotta see about a girl” scene in Good Will Hunting is effective because Will and Sean—a generation apart—each understand the experience of Red Sox fandom. It just wouldn’t work with US Postal Service p/b Berry Floor.

(more…)

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.

Cyclocosm Rantcast #12 – The Mini-Rant Disbursement

29 Jun

Script

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

I bet you’d thought I’d forgot, didn’t you? NO! I’m awesome and on it. I said I get it done in June, it’s still technically June, so…yeah.

if you’re just joining us, perhaps as a new reader pulled in by the link bait on custom “bike seats” earlier this week; I can only assume there are billions, if not trillions of you —I offered 20-second chunks of me ranting to reward those who donated money to PeopleForBikes-dot-org as part of my one entire day—the longest day, I might add—of participation in the Tim Johnson Ride on Washington.

Anyway, here’s how the game works: I’ll read a user-submitted rant topic, and a timer will start when I’m done with the intro. I will proceed to rant until a bell rings, which will announce that the 20 second interval has concluded,—actually, I’m going to use 30 seconds because it turns out you can’t say a whole lot in 20— at which point I will continue onto the next rant topic. Simple, is it not?

And yes, for the new people, normally these rantcasts are single topic as you can see them all on my soundcloud page, soundcloud.com/cosmocatalano, but I had to offer something for IndieGogo donations, and really, stamping buttons or silkscreen t-shirts isn’t my thing. Are we ready? Aaaaaand go!

“Can you please disabuse”—ohh, good word, by the way—“can you please disabuse people of the notion that Brian Cookson is the UCI’s own personal saviour?” Interesting religious overtones, not sure if I can, but I’ll try.

I remember when “Not Pat McQuaid was a twitter account—now it’s a campaign slogan. Seriously ,though— Cookson oversaw a pretty tremendous renaissance in British Cycling—one that was apparently clean in an era when everyone else was seeking Sesame Street-style sponsorship from the letters E, P, and O.

That said—you, me, other internet friends—we are not voting for UCI present. Cookson needs to get the lion’s share of 42 delegates—and that takes backroom promises, and the same sort of noisome behavior we all know and hate, for example, punting on easy questions like Paul Kimmage’s earlier this month. Will Cookson be better than McQuaid? One can only hope. But you can’t exactly expect the fraternity president not to be a fratboy.

Alright, next topic “Wearing matching shorts for a jersey wearer in the Tour de France (in particular polka dot shorts)” Yes—YES. So on board with this.

So apparently, for most of the history of cycling getting any piece of cycling gear in a non-standard color was extremely hard to do—up to about 1985, shorts were more or less always black.  I’m under the impression that this changed around 1990, and people went a little crazy with design freedom, ala MySpace in 2006.

We could point at Carrera or Castorama, but the real casualty came when leaders kits—especially polkadots—became way too over coordinated. The point of the special jersey to show that you—and your team—earned the right to stand out—not to how what special edition gear your sponsor had whipped up. Team-issue bibs and leaders jersey is the way to go, and if you’re worried about clashing, just remember—everything goes with black.

“Can you please let everyone know that tubulars are a waste of time and money—at least for road. I’ve been on road tubeless for two years and loved every second of it”

Ah, I’m really not qualified to talk about this. Last summer, I would have definitely agreed with you, despite the fact that I’ve never ridden road tubeless. That said, I finally made the “leap” to tubulars in cross last fall, and I have to say the “effort” and “mess” involved are massively oversold. Find a reputable website or blog, follow their instructions faithfully, and you’ll be surprised how easy tubulars can be.

Yes, cleaning old rims sucks, and yes, if you do it wrong in ‘cross, you might roll a tire. But tubulars are crazy easy to glue on the road, and tubular rims are lighter, stronger, and cheaper—yes, even including the cost of tires—than their tubeless counterparts. Maybe tubeless wins out if you have to race and train on a single set of wheels, but honestly, that sounds kind of like a dumb idea.

“Something silly, crazy, makes your eyes roll that Pete Webber said or did on the ride that day would be ideal. Like insisting that to save space/weight a couple should bring just one wallet on a bike tour and then you're in Auckland, New Zealand with no wallet at all doing an impromptu performance of an AmEx travel emergency ad”

So, having ridden with Pete exactly one time this scenario seems entirely feasible. If he says five-minute stop, what he means four minute interval of sprinting to accomplish everything you’ve been waiting to do for the past thirty miles.

Pete Webber no-nos from the ROW include: stopping when not told to, asking too frequently when the next stop would occur, putting on sunscreen at an official stop when it could have been applied before leaving, taking too long to pee, peeing too quickly and messing around on your phone, and asking for a pee break after not peeing at the previous designated pee stop.

That said, if you need someone to guarantee that group of 15 riders of mixed ability will complete a 130-mile ride in limited daylight, have a good time doing it, and be ready to do repeat the process the next day, you’d be hard pressed to find a better ride leader.

“There has always been and always will be a singular wrong in this flawed world of ours – one that affects each and every one of us on a daily basis – people in cars attempting to cede their right of way at stop signs to cyclists by waving us through. This (passive) aggression will not stand.”

Indeed. This is of particular concern on two-lane roads, where one driver stops and waives, effectively beckoning the cyclist into a buzzsaw of cold steel zipping around the otherside of his vehicle. Not to mention that this encourages bad behavior from two-wheeled novices who need to learn to follow the rules.

Drivers need to think of bikes less as confused children or tottering little old ladies—apparently the only other non-car entities they see in roadway—and more as slow, skinny, maneuverable cars.  Pass them freely but responsibly, do not begrudge them their ability to fit through tights spaces, and yield to them only when warranted.

“A rant about how there are far too many types (i.e. shapes) of pasta. I mean, seriously, WTF?”

ugh—right, so…actually, I don’t agree. Pasta is really the finch’s beak of the food world. Different shapes and styles have evolved to fill different epicurean niches. Lasagnas are structural elements in heavy, layered dishes. Ravioli and toretllini are elegant vessels for a variety of different stuffings, orzo is great for salads and soups, and more complex shapes like gemelli and radiatori hold heavy sauces extremely well.

Even styles that would seem to be functional analogues—spaghetti and linguine, for example—offer different textures and dining experiences to due differing surface area to volume ratios. I’m not gonna go so far as to tell you that there’s a meaningful distinction to be made between penne and ziti, but I will say the free market just wouldn’t allow for “too many” pasta forms to exist.

“My rant request would be about the extreme heel down pedaling styles that continues to result in knee injuries: Wiggins, Boonen (repeatedly), Horner, Vandenbergh, Stybar, etc…”

I’m not really qualified to talk about this. Back when I was 23 and effectively bulletproof, I thought I how a bike should fit. But now that I am…not 23, it’s become painfully apparent that this is not the case.  

If I’ve learned anything through the persistent decay of my own body, it’s that everyone has different strengths, weaknesses, and bad habits. Civilization has wrought a heavy toll to the once-highly conserved efficiency of the human leg, allowing biologically unfit mutations to persist, while heaping on the heretofore unknown evolutionary pressures of obesity, longevity and sitting down at a desk for 8 hours at a time.

My advice is that everyone should consult a professionally-trained and educated fit specialist on a regular basis.

“Revenue sharing from media rights directly to teams (or lack thereof)”

Yes. This is pretty much a no-brainer. The existing system of team sponsorship—it’s more of a patronage, really—is unbelievably unstable and frankly, kind of embarrassing.  Without riders, there isn’t a race, and without a race, and thus no race revenue.

Sure, a lot of events have been folding recently—mostly in dope-happy Spain—but if anything, I think that’s testimony to how friggin’ easy it once was to pay the appearance fees for a handful of top names and then sop up money from sponsors and residuals.

In a rare moment of intelligence, the UCI has restructured rules to encourage teams to be businesses, but a viable business model needs more revenue than a few corporations who think it might be neat to have their name on some scrawny guys chest for the next three weeks.

“USACycling's byzantine rules and processes for clubs, teams, and races discouraging riders from getting into racing.”

 Right, so I’m told by people who’ve been around for far, far longer than I have that the sole purpose of amateur racing in the United States is road racing talent development. Period. Oh sure, they’ll take your entry fees and yearly license registration, but they don’t seem to feel  like they need ‘em.

Or at least, they don’t act like it. The example this donor gave was paying for your own background check to be a driver at an event, but honestly, I’m just bummed on what I the ROI is for a race entry in the amateur sport these days. I was lucky to get into this game in college when you raced against the same dudes every week, where everyone had teams, and there were attempts tactics, and awesomeness abounded

The growth of cross has shown there’s definitely demand for amateur bike racing in the US, but USAC’s response—to make cross less fun in hopes of pushing people onto the road—shows exactly how little interest they have in taking advantage of this.

“Patent Trolls”

I do hate patent trolls, but I’m not exactly sure how I can tie that into cycling. Most of my frustration from intellectual property in this sport comes from copyright—because obviously, trying to make the first 150 kilometers of a bike race interesting somehow steals food from Christian Prudhommes’ childrens mouths.

No, with the possible exception of Specialized—even then, I think their tiff with Volagi was based on just insider knowledge rather than patent violation—people in the cycling industry seem to be pretty cool about it. I’ve heard rumors that Shimano owns patents on, uh, everything, but by and large is willing to license and/or not enforce them, because they know their production quality is higher. And in my experience, this has pretty much proven to be the case.

“How about a rant about the gas guzzling, mostly obese, haters who have come out against the newly painted bike lanes in Redlands.  Their complaints include:”

…and he goes on to list the complaints about cyclists not obeying traffic rules, roads being for cars, it not being safe for cars and bikes, etc.

Unfortunately, I don’t think this is a problem that can be solved logically. A lot of otherwise intelligent, well-meaning people were raised with and have lived their life in pursuit of this car-centered lifestyle because it’s resonant with their American dream. I think from any perspective—health, environment, economics—it’s not something that can continue on its current scale, and I think even its strongest adherents realize this, and view any change to their world as a beginning-of-the-end kinda threat.

But again, you’re never gonna change this talking about pollution, gridlock or obesity. The uniquely rational have already been sway. The trick is associating these bike lanes and cycling generally with that notion of Americanness, and that’s a really hard thing to do—and a big part of why I try and raise money for an org like BikesBelong.

“Um. Why people obsess over Green Michelin Muds.”

‘Cross clinchers. Don’t get me started. Seriously though, I think the green muds have a reputation of actually being a Mud tire—I’m told the knobs are higher and burlier than the now ubiquitous Mud2, making the tire bitier in slop and faster clearing. Personally, I’ve only ever ridden the Mud2, and I have very positive feelings about it, but a mud tire, it is not.

Maybe there’s some allure in it being a clincher that somehow performs in the mud? I dunno, though&m

dash;if you can’t run 22psi, I’m skeptical. I had blast in some seriously atrocious conditions on some far less expensive Challenge Limuses last fall, and wouldn’t have swapped them out in the pits for pretty much any clincher wheelset you can name and a pair of cherry green mids.

Just gonna preface this question by saying it’s edited down significantly—the injustice which has befallen Amets Txurruka. You get bonus points if you can do the rant in Basque—for the record, I cannot. Basque is weird.

Backstory, whichs is going to make this one run long—Txurruka was a rider for Euskaltel for many years, most combative at the 2007 Tour de France, but generally aggressive for selfless ends—getting into breaks, pushing tempo on climbs, etc. In 2012, he was dropped by Euskaltel, probably for not developing into a guy who could win races, despite his obvious talent. Earlier this year, he took his first pro win at Vuelta a Asutrias, on the continental squad Caja Rural and basically told the media afterward, “I’d rather be a domestique.”

Two things, here: one, yeah, I htink it’s totally feasible that a guy would prefer to work. Winning is high-stress—everyone is counting on you, and you’ve got to constantly play poker, scan rivals for strengths, weakness, etc. As a domestique, especially in the hills, you can almost put it into into time trial mode—kill it until your legs are toasted. That’s not necessarily easier or harder, just a different kind of effort, and I see no shame in preferring it over the title role.

But two, I can also see Euskaltel dumping the guy. They need wins—not much to show since the heyday of Iban Mayo and…I probably don’t need to clarify why that’s different. Yes, Txurruka’s a huge asset, but if he doesn’t have a top-flight GC guy to work for, he could be pretty heavy strain on a team’s budget. I get there’s a lot of romance associated with the de facto Basque national team, but if the focus isn’t on top WorldTour riders getting top WorldTour results,they shouldn’t be taking up space with a WorldTour license.

And finally: Do a rant on Phil and Paul.

Actually, I like Phil and Paul—call it sentimentality, I suppose, but for all the Lance-backing, blown rider IDs and occasionally cultural insensitivity, I think they can do quite well vocally conveying the important aspects of a bike race, and putting them in context of the history of the sport.

The big issue for me is the eight inch rut they’re in—time to Bust that Cycle, as ZeFrank would say. Get a stats guy and a rider spotter or someone to feed them off-beat, challenging questions, from the internet where governing bodies, or a major team or sponsor might have to take some push-back, and for the love of all that is holy, throw the stupid tourism guide out the window.

Aaah. And I think that about does it. The Cyclocosm rantcast is written, produced, and narrated by me, Cosmo Catalano from my wicked high tech studio in Hartford, CT. In an outright refutation that the profit motive holds any sort of economic validity, I blog at Cyclocosm.com and there produce a number of lovely things, the loveliest of which can be viewed at vimeo.com/cyclocosm. It’s hot and I’m running out of both daylight and witty things to say, so I’m just going to leave it there and go ride my bike.

Cyclocosm Rantcast #11 – Peak Fondo

17 Jun

Script

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

Yeah, I’m back. needed a little post-Giro, post-How-the-Race-Was-Won vacation, to cool the engines, ride my bike to Montauk, not get fired from my day job, and—oh yeah, sleep, which is, for the record, what I am not doing now.

Let’s start by going back, way back—back before NBC Universal was called Versus, when cycling was an incongruous block in a non-stop stream of redneck infotainment called the Outdoor Life Network. The sport appeared there because some point, OLN bought the US rights to the Tour—either 1999 or 2001, depending on if you believe NBC Sports’ Wikipedia page or the New York Times (yes, that is a serious question)—I can’t really say because I didn’t start watching until 2002.  

And apparently I wasn’t alone. More and more people were watching. History was being made. Three tours? Lance was only the second American to do that. Four—eh, I mean, that’s pretty good. Five was a record and all, but it was really close—so six would be huge. And of course, the ever-escalating celebrity of the man himself—dating rock stars, rumors of a movie in the works, and of course, those yellow wristbands—about 80 million dollars worth—on the arm of basically every public figure on Earth.

In 2004 OLN went big for the Tour. Really big. I mean, we’re talking Inland Empire, subprime ARM, buy-now-or-be-priced-out-forever–big. They hired that guy who used to be cool from all those badass movies by that other guy who used to be cool and put together “The Cyclysm”. The marketing firm that executed the project actually has a pretty stellar set of  documentation on the effort, and in hindsight it was kind of awesome to see cycling get so much exposure.

But we—and by “we” I mean, the cycling fans on the Internet, who were legion even than—hated it.  I know everyone knows about trolls and the aimless destructive rage of comments sections these days, but back then, it was worse. Imagine an internet where baby sloth videos and LOLcats are replaced by crummy forum software and browsers that crash every 15 minutes. Plus Facebook hadn’t convinced all the normal people to go online yet, so basically, everyone there was pissed off and bitter 100% of the time.

And granted, there were some things to be pissed about. Like The Lance Chronicles—that detailed Lance’s busy, exciting life, from filming Subaru commercials to getting art for his house in Girona, to charity receptions to…wait a minute, what does this show to do with cycling again?

No no, that’s not fair. There was plenty about cycling in the show. Like Lance accidentally revealing that he uses Assos chamois cream, or that Trek reps make sad faces when Armstrong doesn’t ride their special bike, or that low carb-diets just wouldn’t work for a guy like Lance…oh Chris Carmichael, how I’ve missed your fitness wisdom.

And come Tour Time…whoof. People started appearing for no apparent reason—like Swiss trials pioneer Hans Rey, who by his own account didn’t seem to know what he was doing there, either. There was a show called The Roadside Tour featuring a bunch of American jackasses called “The Cutters” that was so bad, OLN cancelled mid-way through the race. Amazingly, there seems to be no trace of it online so if anyone out there has got footage kicking around I would love to see it.

But for me the worst sin of the Only Lance Network (get it? OLN? That was what we called it…) was the “expanded” coverage during the evenings that consisted of Al Trautwig asking painfully obvious questions to Bob roll for 90 minutes during primetime, heading off the network’s fears that a more general audience would put off by Lance not constantly kicking everyone else’s ass, or y’know, British people.

Anyway, the ‘04 race was a dog, the ‘05 race was worse, and as you might imagine, the whole house of cards came tumbling down in ‘06 because—duh, no Lance. Maybe if OLN had invested for the long term, and treated the sport seriously, instead of piping the monotonous drone of Armstrong’s greatness, they might have retained a few viewers. I personally know several fans converted by daily, non-expanded coverage of the ‘03 Vuelta and ‘04 Giro in those heady “let’s show the racing years”.

Writ large, the Tour’s overproduction was classic bubble behavior—the slow burn of Lance exploded into frenzy, more content was being produced and than could be sustained by the income of the ad revenue. Not that OLN cared—the Lance blitz gave them profile, and a tiff between the NHL and ESPN soon turned the channel into the home of hockey. This in turn gave it enough profile to be bought out by Comcast, who would later merge it with NBC sports, because Comcast would really, really like there to be a viable sports competitor to ESPN, who makes their money by reaming the cable provider on subscriber fees—you can learn all about this in Rantcast #2.

But to cycling the industry, the absence of Lance, or perhaps the over-focus on racing generally that became the norm in his era, would leave a lasting wound. In the early aughts, you could sell a bike because it was ostensibly Lance’s bike. Or—as Competitive Cyclist’s “It’s not a Trek” tagline once proclaimed, because it’s not Lance’s bike. Marketing became a predictable, mostly idiotic and wholly unverifiable game of one upmanship about lightness, stiffness, yaw angles, and the like.

But more and more, I think, consumers became steadily less enthusiastic about marginal technical advantages. No matter how much they spent, they were still Cat 3s. They were still finishing mid-pack. While their bikes may have been getting faster and more advanced, their backs were getting sorer, their necks more kinked, and their daylight hours progressively less easy to occupy with things like training.

Combine this with a steady stream of drug positives, professional and amatuer, and general ineptitude from the sport’s international and US governing bodies, and you’ve got group o

f people distinctly less interested in bicycle racing, but who still loved riding, trying cool gear, and imagining they can set the roads on fire like the pros.

When you’re on a bike, there are basically two ways to feel like Fabian Cancellara. One is to train a whole bunch, get super fit, and find that extra gear in a race, closing some crazy gap, making the winning move, or, if you’re incredibly lucky, crossing the line first. The other, significantly easier way, is to find any unpaved road and ride somewhere in the neighborhood of uptempo. Slowly but surely over the past decade, more and more people have figured this second route out.

You could see the trend coming for a while—Grant Peterson, clairvoyant industry heretic, has been spouting some version of the doctrine since 1994. The words  “sportive” and “fondo”  began creeping into the sport’s cultural lexicon, and on a technical front, after decades of narrowing and straight up lying about widths to play the gram game, rims and tires were getting wider, pressures getting lower. Tinkerers and manufacturers alike were  constructing weird workarounds to make disc brakes run on drop handlebars.

And there’s nothing wrong with this—people on practical, versatile bikes? Can’t complain. Wide availability of tough, durable parts that work well for a variety of cycling endeavours? Sounds awesome. Putting in six hour rides just to see what’s out there? More power to you.

This rediscovery of the humble awesomeness of just going out and riding has been accompanied by a host of new brands focused more on the ineffable qualities of riding than actually competing in a race. Rapha, much as I may tease, was a much needed injection of competent style in an arena where pro apparel can make 4% body fat look like a beer belly; not surprisingly, it inspired a slew of imitators. Publications like Rouleur spring up—again, with imitators—and even Bicycling rebranded, taking on a more upscale, refined image…for their monthly tips on weight loss.

In fact, there seem to be a bunch of blogs, websites, magazines, and other semi-professional publications that have gotten really into gazing at their own navels on spectacle, or majesty or whatever bike-related this-is-so-meaningful-ism happens to strike them at the time of writing. By and large, these pieces are of such gobsmacking banality that I can’t help but feel I’m experiencing some sort of Bizarro World Lance Chronicles.

Which brings me, at long last, to the point—I think we’ve reached peak fondo. Think your Gravel Grinder is underground? The Times, as they say, is On It. Outside just published a list of the 12 best US Grand Fondos. Google “tips for sportive ride” and you’ll find a healthy spattering of “evergreen content” full of useful information like “drink water” and “pace yourself”.  One of the more important US UCI races even replaced itself with a Fondo this past winter.

It’s not that  racing is of inherently greater value than a sportive, or a fondo, or a gravel grinder, or just going out and hacking around on your bicycle—it’s that at the moment there’s way too much product—gear, bikes, articles, events—being pushed under the auspices of fondo-dom, to be sustainably consumed. And as someone who both came into the sport during the Only Lance Era, and who was hired to blog about real estate in the earliest days of 2008—I think I would know.

The Cyclocosm Rantcast is written and produced by Cosmo Catalano who politely request that you do NOT forward any real estate questions his way, especially not about his current local market of Hartford, Connecticut. His website on cycling is called Cyclocosm.com, and it has all sorts of fun videos and other features, plus a placeholder image of a doping Twitter bird at appears just before the latest Tweet from his @Cyclocosm account. He’s also on Tumblr at cyclocosm.tumblr.com, and promises that this is the last outro he’ll record fully in the third person.

On Coverage and Contractors

24 May

Script

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

Yes, it’s another delayed Cyclocosm Rantcast—but I’m not sorry, because last weekend I was temporarily relocated to the redwoods and hoppy, delicious ales of Sonoma County to ride bikes with fun and interesting people, and watch a little event you might have heard of called the Tour of California.

It seems an odd juxtaposition, really, because the topic of this rant is Beinsport’s coverage of the Giro d’Italia. Or rather, it was supposed to be. But I can’t in good conscience complain about something more or less sight-unseen. While I did manage—at long last—to catch a bit of actual BeIn TV coverage, it was during stage 14’s fog obscured nightmare.

But I’ve heard, actually, and from several sources, that BeIn’s broadcast commentary is quite good. Certainly, if the effort Carlton Kirby made to pump excitement into 40 minutes of staring at an empty road lined by bored, cold Italians is any indication, it couldn’t be that bad. But as the old saying goes, if Dan Lloyd delivers understated quips in his butter-toned British accent and no one’s around to hear them, does it count as good coverage?

So today’s rant will be less about coverage in its proper sense, and more about the contracting decisions that get made delivering the content to the people. Let’s start with something everyone can see—at least, in the US. Maybe the mish-mash of rights and geo-restrictions will be prevent a worldwide audience from seeing these, but head on over to beinsport.tv and see what you can see.

I’ll be fair here—credit is definitely due for giving cycling and the Giro much more exposure around the site than it used to have. A few months ago, the only cycling story on up was about [Lance] Armstrong getting blocked from racing a tri—now they’ve got an article and a video highlight for every each stage—if you look under the “video” header, that is—and clips even make their way onto the front page occasionally.

That said, it’d sure be nice if cycling could have a link under “other sports” or if doing doing a search for cycling brought up more than just 11 articles in some random order.  And let’s take a closer look at these race reports—here’s Stage 17, which is currently two sentences long. And the video seems to suffer from the Phil Liggett effect—not that Dan Lloyd does a bad job with it, more that he seems to just kinda be talking over some footage they threw at him.

So let’s check out Stage 16…hmm “Intxausti timed a late sprint and fought off the challenges…in a dramatic late finish” good so far…”Intxausti was part of a 22-man breakaway group in the early stages” (huh?) “later managed to gain a five-second advantage” None of that is right. “Nibali…setting a fierce pace at the front of the peloton as he attempted to bridge” No, that’s not really… “ it was not until they entered the final 25 kilometres that the 22 separated.” But you just said that breakaway happened in the early stages? Or did you mean separated from each other?

Well, maybe the video will make more sense…nope. Actually, it, uh looks like this one’s just a music video. With some bikes rolling along. And no one talking about the race. Oh, and some guy wins. Nice. Very explanatory. Thanks for that recap. Similar nonsense, weird wording— my favorite was “Uran edged Carlos Betancur by 20 seconds” in Stage 10— and straight-up factual errors pepper most of the BeIn recaps. It’s tempting to blame the network for this mess, but you know, in the grand scheme of things, BeIN is really only a mouldering rusty pipe through which feces flows.

You see, nearly all these reports and videos are actually produced by a company called “Omnisport”, which is itself a sub-entity of a company called the Perform Group.  And as you can read on Omnisport’s riveting product offerings page, this is kind of what they do, producing “page ready content”—a Orwellian turn of diction if I’ve ever heard one—so that doofers like BeIn, and I’m guessing similarly clueless broadcasters from other geographic regions who need to farm out their work—have something to put on their websites so that underlings can report to middle managers who can report to executives that they’re doing really cool things with the web, probably backing it up with some large-sounding numbers that no one understands.

Welcome to the world of Rights Organizations—entities like Perform Group that you’ve never heard of but who seem to lurk everywhere. Last week, I was introduced to a particularly malevolent little troll called Base79. Name mean anything to you? Oh, they’re only YouTube’s largest content partner in Europe, with 550 million views per month on content they “produce”—though I use that term in the loosest possible sense; afterall, they don’t make any content of their own as far as I can tell. All they really do is offering things like distribution—that’d be uploading to YouTube—revenue generation—setting up ads to run on YouTube—and rights protection—the operation of YouTube’s automatic content detection software by which I—and the hapless innocents at Orica GreenEdge—discovered them.

Far be it for me to assail sock-puppeting well-worn YouTube features as some sort of business model—if you can find someone with money and trick them into throwing some in your direction, more power to you. My objection comes with the fact that as a “partner partner”—yes, that’s a literal quote—of the Giro, they’re responsible for the irredeemable mess that is the Giro’s YouTube page. One language, no English subtitles, irritating references to off-site links with no explanation of why these couldn’t be uploaded to YouTube as well, and oh yeah—video quality on par with dropping acid through a bad pair of cataracts.

A v

ery long time ago, when, I dunno, the Earth was pure and fairy kingdoms dotted the land, the purpose of copyright was to protect the work of creative people, giving them a chance to recoup investment, make a living, and generally just incentivizing the creation of newer, cooler, more creative things in the future. But currently, as these rights organizations show, copyright kinda does the exact opposite—pushing firms to dry-hump products for all they’re worth while adding nothing of value to consumers, and arguably—depending on if you’re a shareholder or not—nothing to society as a whole.

But really, the problem of copyright is out-of-scope for this rant, so I’m gonna pull it back to cycling, and the Giro specifically—Michele Acquarone wants to grow the Giro, or at least says he does. As a watcher of the sport—and by watcher I mean person who reads things on the internet because there is nothing to watch—I’ve no shortage of 2nd- and 3rd-hand reports telling me he’s done just that. But here, with my own eyes, in the US? I can’t see anything that’d suggest a single marketing dollar had been thrown the Giro’s way.

And honesty, eh, it’s his, or his organization’s own damn fault. They sold out rights to a channel no one can see, who further outsources to obviously incompetent contractors for their almost-invisible online content. And with another ill-advised partnership, RCS has managed to kneecap the YouTube audience—I’m sorry, the two-billion-eyeball YouTube audience—not just in the sense that the Giro’s “official” YouTube offerings are crap, but in that the efforts of people like me who do a halfway-decent job or presenting the event FOR FREE are actively being undermined.

This, THIS is how you grow your event, Mr Acquarone? I can only hope that someday I get the chance to ask you how, exactly, you thought was going to happen.

The Cyclocosm Rantcast is written produced and everythinged by Cosmo Catalano—that’d be me—one of the most dominant pack fodder finishers in the history of Cat 3 racing. I currently reside in Hartford, Connecticut. My blog is Cyclocosm.com, I tweet using the handle @Cyclocosm, I make a video podcast series called How The Race Was Won, you can see them all at vimeo.com/cyclocosm because YouTube is for copyright trolls. If you’re relatively new to my work, check out Cyclocosm.com/charts for some cool stuff you may not have seen. And now, I’m going to bed.

Please, Don't Say "Mondialize"

10 May

Script

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

Yes, the Rancast is back this week, with more-or-less proper intro music—more on that later. But I’m going to surprise most you today by NOT ranting about BeINSport’s Giro coverage—or at least few miserable dribbles of it (dribbels of the not-on-nosebleed-cable or dish package variety) that my eyeballs—and most other eyeballs across this great nation—have access to. No I’m saving that for next week, and giving BeIN seven more days to get their act together. AS my fellow Dartmouth alumnus Steven Colbert would say, BeIn Sport, you’re on notice.

Today, I’m actually going to focus on a topic that is actually of more global concern to cycling—mondialization. (see what I did there).

Yes, the barbarized phrase of Pat McQuaid, the rented horse of the UCI,  their all-too-ready and all-too-unconvincing riposte any time someone brings up doping or corruption or some combination of the two—mondialization—the expansion of this decidedly European sport beyond Europe. And it’s a great idea—just not, as you probably have come to expect by now—the way the UCI is carrying it out.

First, let’s start with the word itself: when spelled with an “O”, it’s technically not even an English word. It should be Mundialization, with a “u”, but you know, what, that’s fine. If you’re an anglophone and you’re not OK with loan words and your keyboard doesn’t contain the characters ð, ƿ, and þ, you are a hypocrite.

No, my linguistic beef stems from the fact that the word “globalization” isn’t used. Now I know that for some of you, this term conjures up big ugly corporations, rich heartless dudes in suits, and This American Life listeners flagellating themselves to Mike Daisey in an attempt to atone for loving their affordable, stylish, inhumanely-produced iPad.

 

But it should also conjure up images of a modern, largely self-organizing practice that—for example—let Japanese parts manufacturers prove to a product-starved world market in the 1970s that their cycling bits were as good or better than any established European brand, and that let a certain American company demonstrate the awesomeness of both TIG-welding and mountain bikes at scale, almost overnight around a decade later.

But “mondialization”—to me, this does not inspire visions of the same interconnected processes. I realize this may be my non-European, anglophone bias once again, ascribing some level of haughtiness to any phrase rooted deeply in French, but I can’t hear “mondialization” without thinking of Mustapha Mond, the benevolent totalitarian overlord in Brave World. Or le beuax monde, the most pretentious way to refer to fashionable society. Or various mustachioed landed aristocrats piloting Jules Verne-era contraptions around the globe, saving native populations from themselves because it is obviously, we know better than they do.

And I get that the UCI is, like a not-insignifcant minority of the rest of the world, French-speaking and that these associations may not be entirely intentional (though I can’t help but feel that if anyone from the UCI listens to this, he or she—who am I kidding…he—might be sitting there, scratching their head like “why is zees a bad zing?”) but just because it’s an honest linguistic coincidence doesn't mean it’s not a branding problem.

But far more deleterious than any quibble over wording is the disingenuous, self-serving  way in which the UCI has carried out this “mondialization”. Regardless, and I think in spite of the UCIs efforts, the sport has been getting more and more international all by its little old lonesome by going on 20 years now. I mean I’m not even talking about the US, where the Coors classic was bringing deep international fields to the Rockies long before the UCI brought the rainbow jersey to colorado springs, and the Tour de Trump hung on on the East Coast for most of the 90s.

No, I’m talking about events like the Tour de Langkawi, which dates back to 1996, and came about largely because the Malaysian prime minister thought would be a cool idea. Or the Tour Down Under, which, while the UCI may have played a role in ensuring its prominence, wasn’t the product of some special world-sport objective. In wonderfully insightful move, the ASO has been putting Tour of Qatar—host of the 2022 World Cup—for over a decade, while the Japan Cup dates all the way back to 1992 with occasional interruption.

Then there’s the Tour d’Azerbaijan, which you’ve probably seen ads for on Eurosport. It wrapped up earlier this week, and while it still doesn’t quite attract the top names, the field still contains a number of ProTour squads, and the race has been relentless in its self promotion. Bloggers were offered 100-200 Euro to write stories on it—and, while that’s not how we roll here at Cyclocosm, a seedy internet protip is that they were probably ready to offer more.

The race organization was even looking to fly people to the event, all expenses paid, but I do have a day job and don’t have a valid passport, so…someone from Pez ending up going, and the content is, frankly, what you’d expect—including the lack of any useful landing page to give you an index of all the entries (c’mon, Richard, you’re on WordPress now. Do you know
how easy that is?)

Anyway, the point is that all of these events, while they may have benefitted in some way from the UCI’s presence, is that they weren’t part of a sweeping scheme of “mondialization”—someone, somewhere wanted a bike race, and organized the money and production crews and promotion and offered to pay bloggers all to make it happen. Kind of like how Mike Sinyard did with the Stumpjumper, which is why globalization is really the better term. What didn’t happen is that a fully owned subsidiary of the UCI didn’t look for the biggest market it could find, roll out a red carpet for the locals, and attempt to put on an event which it could own, and more importantly, sell, as the UCI did with the Tour of Beijing.

I mean, in and of itself, that’s not a bad thing—who am I to accuse the UCI of wanting to make money?—it’s gussying it up as some sort of grand benevolent objective—this “mondialization”—when its an obvious play for increased income, that’s distasteful. And that the UCI’s race organizing arm is working perhaps a bit harder than it should to find new races to make money off—oh, right, and that Tour of Beijing “helps Beijing position itself as a city that cannot be overlooked when it comes to…” wait for it “…protection of the environment and promotion of a healthy lifestyle,” when nothing could be further from the truth.

So right—internationalizing cycling, more people racing bikes in more places—is awesome. But for the UCI to act like its just recently begun instigating something that’s been going on of it’s own volition for three decades is totally idiotic, an idiocy made all the worse by the organizations pretentious notion that this might somehow offset any damage caused by its inability to properly address, oh I dunno, doping. As Pat McQuaid found when he “mondialized” cyclocross over to Lousiville, no matter where the UCI takes the sport, its reputation will always precede it.

Hey, the fresh beats are back—I’ve appropriated two of my favorite themes, see if you can guess them, but more importnatly this means we now have a proper outro. My name is Cosmo Catalano, an oxygen-carbon exchange unit currently located in the City of Hartford Connecticut. You’re listening to a Rantcast, one of about a zillion projects I do on my cycling blog, cyclocosm.com that’s h-t-t-p colono-slash-slash c-y-c-l-o-c-o-s-m dot c-o-m. I also produce a race recap video podcast called How the Race Was Won, which you can google, and I’m on the Twitters, username at-Cyclocosm.  

If there’s a topic you’d like to hear me grumble about in a future rantcast, I’m taking requests for 20-second, mini-rants at cyclocosm.com/pfb, as part of a fundraiser for PeopleForBikes.org—all you have to do is contribute a $20 donation. But be quick about it, it’s only open for eight more days.

For Sponsors, Winning Isn't Necessarily Everything

3 May

Script

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

Let’s talk for a moment about why anyone would sponsor a cycling team. It’s such a bizarre relationship—between 5 and 20 million Euros or the equivalent in dollars or bitcoins, and effectively get no tangible return. They don’t own the team, or the rider contracts, or its license to enter events, and they don’t collect a share of the winnings when it does well. I dunno, maybe sponsors get a cut from sales of jerseys or team-issue bikes…but, other than that…

Sure, the sport has TV rights, but they remain clenched firmly in the hands of race organizers. Sponsors don’t get to collect income from ticket sales —there are no tickets, or $13 beers, or stadium oriented development and real-estate projects to skim from. In fact, as a sponsor, fans expect you to invest in them, in the form of hilariously retrofitted vehicles packed with cheap trinkets and attractive young women to toss them out.

And since teams radically change in terms of brand, roster, and appearance from season to season, there’s no—ok with the possible exception of Euskaltel, where fans actually own part of the team—there’s nt storied franchise entity to rally around. It’d like major league baseball, except every team is the Florida Marlins. Miami. Miami Marlins? Really?

Cyclingnews helped conduct a study recently to assess the ROI on that one slim vector for those few companies who fund cycling. That’d be media exposure. As Cyclingnews is a media company funded by cycling, I’m not sure I put that much stock in their assessments—doubly not sure because they decided to make downloading their report a lead-gen opportunity download with misleading opt-out text—but, anyway, the numbers were roughly in line with what Jon Vaughters was boasting to Joe Lindsey about four years ago—90mm dollars.

And that sounds like a pretty good deal, but then again, big numbers are really, really easy to come up with. For example, YouTube estimates people spent over 164,000 minutes watching How The Race Was Won videos in the month of April—that’s 104 days, 3 hours, and doesn’t include the 290,000 impressions served by Vimeo embeds in the same time period, but I digress—the point is sponsors and potential employers aren’t exactly kicking down my door.

And this is because all exposure is not created equal. Example A: I was raised in a veritable sea of cigarette ads and to this day, I cannot shake my bizarre aversion to camels, cowboys and the phrase “alive with pleasure”. So sure, when Thibaut Pinot wins Stage 8 of last year’s Tour, that is indeed millions of dollars of exposure for the title sponsors. The French National Lottery and a French Building Supplies distributor get millions in their target audience, at prime-couch-wart time staring at their countryman in their national race.

But what—to borrow Josh Kadis’ example from 2009—would a firm like CSC, which sells kinda wonky non-consumer IT solutions, want with however-many-million couch-loads of middle-class French eyeballs? The mass-market works for the mundane European products that filled cycling when I first started watching it—home goods, concrete, an inexplicably large number of flooring products. But with the advent of the ProTour and a focus on larger, multinational sponsors, there kinda has to be this connection with an world audience thats…eh, different…from its European base

For CSC, I think the plan was that cycling stereotypically appeals to the sort of nerdy, well-off white dude that you’d—again, stereotypically—find making IT purchasing decisions. Plus, Team CSCs reputation, their brand, if you will, was that of an efficient, successful, modern team.  Even after Riis, Hamilton, Jasche, Basso, probably Jalabert and etc., I think to this day, Team CSC’s image as the forward-thinking, commando-campers, attacking boldly in a sport of dull US Postal and backward also-rans, remains intact.


Basically there are two ways to slice the sponsorship orange. The first is obvious—you’re the team that wins stuff. Right now, even after a roundly miserably classics seasons, that’s Sky. It’s big, superfunded, successful, on the cover of every newspaper the next morning, but also boring as hell and nobody really likes you. I shouldn’t say nobody really likes you, but c’mon—being a fan of Sky is like being a fan of the Yankees or the Dallas Cowboys, or Manchester United. Associating with the perennially dominant brand makes you a tourist, or a bandwagoner, or at best, that guy.

The other way to show your sponsors return is to be the squad where people really like brand and want to associate with it—like I think CSC once was. And today, you still have a pretty well established Cult of Jens, of Johnny Hoogerland, and to a lesser extent, Thomas Voeckler—though, to be fair, he seems less interested in attacking and more interested in annoying the hell out of everyone.  You might win rarely, or never at all, but you make the race exist, or at least interesting, and the viewers at home appreciate it.

And this would be a great thing—except that internally, cycling worships the winner like no other. Even the great animators had to get results sometime. Virenque never won the Tour, but he did manage a few stages and more than a few KOM title. Likewise Alexandre Vinokourov, for all his ethical shortcomings, did a splendid job of both animating and coming across the line first. Even Jacky Durand, whose name was synonymous with the nonsense breakaway, managed to pick up Flanders 
an
d a a few Tour stages over the course of his decade and a half in the sport

Regardless of how much value there might be in the animating a race, the pressure from the team car is always to win. To race smart. And in some respects, thats’ fine. I’m not saying winning doesn’t matter—but in other ways it sucks because everything turns into Fleche-Wallonne: a bunch of guys hanging around and saving energy until the last moment when all but one of them finds out “oh, wait—I wasn’t the strongest.”

I think this was especially evident at Liege, where, around 15k from the end 260 kilometer event, you had the top, top riders at the head of the race, the pack reeling behind them, and everything was six pedal strokes, check over the shoulder, and coast. It’s not quite as bad as the NFL, where coaches literally play not for victory, but to avoid criticism for doing anything that might have caused a loss, but I feel like it’s getting there.

Don’t get me wrong, there are other factors, too. Riders on the whole are better  athletes than they used to be, and bigger rosters allow groups within teams to peak for different events, making for a fitter peloton, and one that’s less prone to lose control of an event. Plus the efficacy of the single leader strategy has taken plenty of strong riders who might otherwise animate and turned them into bottle carriers, gap closers, or wheelsuckers.

So to continue to increase the value this second style of sponsorship, remain attractive to sponsors who are not especially interested in the European mass audience, and, frankly,  to ensure the racing stays interesting—cycling really needs to better incentivize the sort of risk-taking that can turn a bike race on it’s head.

It’s done quite the opposite in recent years; with the Tour scratching bonus seconds and bunching the points scored on a given stage into two overloaded sprints, the second of which occurs on the finish line and thus is already contested by everyone. The Giro’s Intergiro classification, which was literally a stage race to points that were not the finish line, was unfairly maligned as being too complicated and nixed after 2005.

I know it’s almost trite to complain about the death of panache, people have been doing it since Anquetil, but surely we can do better at assessing and rewarding actual, purposeful aggressiveness than polling journalists and giving some guy a set of red numbers to ride in the next day.

Break the stage into zones based on predicted race situation, and offer prize money for successful attacks in the dullest or most critical areas? Restore the Intergiro or the intermediate sprints competition? Actively penalize teams who don’t send riders up the road? I honestly don’t really know—but I think it’d be a welcome change to watch as the sport experimented trying to figure it out.

The Perils of Over-Specialization

26 Apr

Script

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

Today’s rant is abbreviated and delayed somewhat by time and circumstance. If you haven’t been following me on twitter, or haven’t seen the previous post at Cyclocosm.com, then you don’t know that I spent yesterday riding from my home base in Hartford CT, to New York City as part of of the Ride on Washington. If I sound a little different it’s because I’m recording a fabulous Brooklyn studio gazing out over the rooftops at the Kentile Sign and VZ bridge.

As part of the ride, I promsed to raise $500 for Peopleforbikes.org, a goal which I’m happy to announced we’ve beaten pretty handily. But just  for your edification, the campaign will remain open until the stated closing date of Friday, May 17, meaning that you can still collect the IndieGoGo perk of having me rant for 20 seconds about the topic of your choice.

Anyway, what occurred to me as I clawed my way over the 130 miles between the two cities yesterday was that cyclists—actually, that’s a dumb word, and kinda part of the problem. What occurred to me was that people who are in someway associated with bicycles could stand to be somewhat less, uh, specific in how they define themselves.

It’s like the newly minted-racer rushing to assign his or her self a label before they’ve even gotten a Cat 5 upgrade. “Oh, hey, I weigh 180 pounds, I’m probably not gonna be a climber”, or deciding that just because they got their wheels blown off in a prime one time, they must be one of those riders who simply can’t sprint

I mean, of course—to a certain extent, you are the athlete you’re born as. But to another extent more immediately relevant to the mass of Category 3 humanity in which I’ve found myself, cycling is a sport with specific skills you can learn, and where serious training can have a huge impact.

For example, it’s likely even the slowest of the slow-twitch could put themselves into the top 10 of most amateur field sprints simply by getting their nose in the mix and learning that savvy positioning is an able substitute 5-second power. Conversely, a reasonable diet, and some serious training could scrape a few pounds off almost anyone—and according to Tyler Hamilton, and few pounds are easily worth a few units of hematocrit as far as climbing goes.

It something that carries over to parts as well—people thinking they need such-and-a-part to gain such-and-such amount of whatever, when leaning to properly hold a wheel would or pick a line serve them far, far better than any upgraded piece of equipment—but after last week, I’m kinda done on wailing on the industry for a little bit.  Suffice to say, there isn’t really any piece of gear you absolutely need to have other than a helmet—yes even tubular cross tires aren’t inescapably a requirement.

But for me, the biggest problem with this rush to specialization is that it inherently segregates groups of the bike riding public from each other. By and large, the mountain bikers don’t hang out with the roadies who don’t hang out with the bearded touring dudes who don’t hang out with the blinky-lighted commuters who don’t hang out with the tight-pants fixie riders, and really has anyone ever even talked to that guy on the the kmart bike with the plastic bag hanging from this bars going the wrong way on the sidewalk?

Even within subgroups, things can get “catty”—get it, like Cat 1, Cat 2? No? Ok. well, you know what I mean—pros want everyone to know that they’re pro, everyone else wants everyone else to know that they aren’t a fred, despite the practical necessity of every one of us being a fred at some point or another.

in some ways, this segregation makes sense—can’t really ride Porcupine Rim on an NJS-certified track bike, you know? But the specialization rapidly becomes nefarious—for instance, a commuter stops at a red light, but a racer or a messenger or even the walmart bike riding behind guy doesn’t really feel the social pressure to stop because hey, stopping for lights is for the commuter subgroup—not the collective responsibility of anyone riding a bike.

The various bike-riding subgroups also waste a lot of energy in the way that they interact with society as a whole. Everyone on a bike—actually, everyone period—has to deal with the government at some level. Not in the “I want my country back” sort of way, but more along the lines of “this is the established system how things actually change”. New bike lanes, access to trails, the right to ride two abreast—or even ride at all—all require the same sort of signature-collecting, hearing-attending, public promotion, and lobbying, and yet for some reason, the various groups of bicycle rider, while all pushing in the same direction, rarely seem to be coordinated in their efforts.

Yesterday’s ride was pretty sweet for me both because I got to draft behind some serious pro cyclist watts, and to cruise around one of the most massive urban areas in the world on hard won, well-planned bicycle infrastructure. And I think it’d be great if everyone on a bike could experience that sort of confluence more often. Which is kind of why I did the ride in the first place. If that sounds like something you’d be interested in supporting, head over to http://cyclocosm.com/pfb today.

The Death of "Trickle Down"

19 Apr

Script

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


SRAM, SRAM, SRAM, sram…I don’t really dislike you guys—it’s just bad timing. No, I’m not complaining about the ham-handed marketing of having a launch event and then embargoing it for three days in this interconnected, live-tweeted milieu, or that you’re offering hydraulic road brakes—despite being not strictly necessary, and entirely incompatible with everything else on the market, from a mechanical standpoint, they could conceivably address the few pertinent issues present in cable-actuated brakes.

No, my complaint is that you didn’t do anything to your cheap parts gruppos—instead, we consumers get to wait for things to “trickle down”. And that’s stupid. Apex could be a pretty sweet set of parts, if it didn’t sound and feel like you were doing grievous damages to the internals of the shifter every time you pushed the chain onto a bigger cog. This isn’t the time to discuss whether actual damage is being done, or whether this is a problem with ALL your shifters, but suffice it to say, durability is not something I’m expecting to “trickle down” anytime soon.

Do you remember your old “I chose SRAM” commercials—God, I really don’t mean to rip on you guys I’m really sorry about this. I’ll make it up to you before the end—those ads kinda exemplify the problem I’m getting at. You’ve got professional riders who ride essentially on what they get paid to ride, saying they voluntarily chose something. Like, c’mon—in most cases, they chose to sign a contract with a team. They didn’t choose the manufacturers. And if they did chose the manufactures, they probably chose them based on price.

And you know, that’s fine—even if the team manager or some other whatever in some back room really did the choosing, I don’t feel lied to. Product representation is a big part of being a pro. But I don’t really care what the pros ride. I don’t want pro gear because pro gear comes out of a big pile of replacement pro gear in the back of a pro truck, and is, in some cases, literally thrown away the first sign of pro trouble—or, very occasionally, sold for drugs. And possibly legal fees.

You want me to buy me something? Find me the 20-year-old Cat 2, couch-surfing his way around to big regional and second-class national events in hopes of getting some sort of attention, and show it to me on his bike. Because I guarantee you, it’s gonna be durable, it’s gonna be good, it’s gonna be tough, it’s gonna be easy to fix on your own, and most of all, it’s gonna offer a pretty serious bang for the buck. These are my criteria—while it’s cool, the number of classics a particular part has won plays no role in my selection process.

And that “fix-on-your-own-thing”? That’s important. Really important. I’m a busy little dude. I work a pretty full day, gotta record podcasts, ride when I can, get groceries, and I don’t have the time to for my bike to be in shop when I need it—let alone invest my time in getting it there, or more money than necessary into fixing it. My bike’s gotta be ready to go 24/7, and I need to be able to make it ready. And SRAM, this is where you guys are my heros because your shifters still work by yanking on cables.

Shimano and Campangolo’s recent forray into the world of electronic shifting—ugh, I’m gonna skip over the dropped chains, dead batteries, exorbitant prices—and stick to actual use. When Ryan T. Kelly—of Slam That Stem fame and pretty much the meme-spewing personal incarnation of the internet—is somehow dependant on physically going to a dealer to have some 15 year old shop rat install firmware for him, something ain’t right. To a pro, a slightly bent hanger is the same fix either way—give it to the mechanic. To me, mechanical shifting just is just a barrel tweak and ginger shifting ‘til I can solve the problem properly. On electronic? It’s no bike until I can get it to the shop.

Frankly, I think “trickle down” is kinda off-putting to young-ish bike racers who are extremely active in the sport, but who might not be able to justify spending five or ten or even two grand on a bike. Like, let’s take recent Cervelo RCA launch (gah, another company I don’t want to rip on).

If you look at the photos from this event—the bike is propped up on some sort of platform stand—which, in fifteen years of hanging out with cyclists who actually ride—I’ve never seen. It’s posed against the backdrop of a pool, in what appears to be a walled-in, vine-hemmed backyard. I mean, you couldn’t ask for a more stereotypically affluent-yet-out-of-touch backdrop for a “BRO, DO YOU EVEN RIDE?” image macro. And this, this carbon fiber codpiece is where your development efforts are being focused? Trust me when I say that among my generation, this is doing no favors for your brand.

Yeah I get it—it’s supposed to be a halo bike. In the words of Giant’s Andrew Juskaitis, “these are the products we aspire to." Ah, what quaint mid-century notion. Like if you went to work at the factory early every day, and caught the foreman’s eye with your pluck and moxie you could, upgrade from that Chevy into a Buick, and maybe, if you keep chasing that brass ring, bag yourself a Cadillac! Why, that’s Americana, folks! That’s keeping-up-with-the-Joneses! That’s aspirational culture!

And, in case you’d been in a coma for the past six years, that aspirational ideal put lots of people who were really bad at math in debt up to their eyeballs on credit cards they shouldn’t have had and in houses they couldn’t afford. This caused lots of people who were really good at math to lose a lot of everyone’s money, resulting in record unemployment and an economic downturn the likes of which no one listening to this podcast
had ever seen. Not that any of this interfered with our efforts to kill ourselves with subsidized corn and destroy the planet with C02 emissions—Thanks Aspirational Culture!

This should help those of you who went through your prime earning years when one could throw a dirty sock full of $20s at Wall St and come back 30 years later to pick up a nest egg better understanding of why people my age tend to be kinda down on the whole “buying things” idea. I have no plans to “graduate” or “upgrade” as the kids used to say, to Dura-Ace. The first complete bike I bought new was $1300. I rode it basically until it broke. The next new, complete bike I bought was $1300.  And I’m going to ride it until it breaks and buy—wait for it—another $1300 bike.  

This $1300 price tag basically the cost of entry into racing. Go below that and you’re really not going to find a bike that can hold up to the day-in day-out abuse of not just serious training, but balancing that training with a real job. Some rainy days, the chain’s not gonna get wiped. Sometimes you’re gonna ride on a flat. Sometimes you can’t just up and replace a worn chain. And yet even then, that $1300 is still gonna come with some garbage wheelset you can get online for 100 bucks, and eventually, you’ll have to drop another grand to get “real” race wheels.

And this is really where development efforts should be focused: dropping that real-race bike to under $1000, or at least getting a no-bullshit spec together. Cannondale—man, I will leave no ally unslappped today—Cannondale has a $2000 “race” bike that ships with Tiagra and two-kilo hoop-sponges. Unless there’s a concealed motor or Peter Sagan in there somewhere, that’s a pretty idiotic proposition.

Ideally, a good cycing product doesn’t need to be titsed and glitzed every year. Or every three years. While Chris King and Phil Wood have offered some new products, their bread and butter has remained largely unchanged since I came across them in Jenson catalogue. At the other end of the price spectrum, Surly, with no major innovations to the frame, has been selling out the cross-check for over a decade.

If Cannondale churned out a model with, I dunno, a CAAD4 frame,  and sold it with house parts, a 105 gruppo and a 1600g pair of off-brand alloy wheels for $1200, I would be totally into that. In fact, I think Tati Cycles may already be doing something in that vein—making a “Zef” $1300 bike with 1200g carbon tubies, or whatever—though it’s hard to tell, since pinning down his/her/its one true online presence is kind of like trying to properly visualize a tesseract.

So yeah—trickle down. It might have worked for a while. It might even still work in the short term now, but you’re selling to dudes who are gonna be dead, or at least not buying bikes, in 20 years. By making midrange investments now—focusing as much on self-servicability and resilience to abuse as performance and weight—you can lower the barriers to entry while creating a customer base who can afford to buy parts for the next half-century.