History lessons

Imagine a cycling world where nine-speed drivetrains have always been “old,” and where the glory days of steel never happened.

That’s my cycling world, which started well into the era of 10-speed cassettes and carbon fiber EVERYTHING. I’ve never owned an aluminum bike. (I know I’m not alone there, so don’t go getting all up in my business about being a new kid.

Despite my newness, I have taken the time to dig into the history of the sport. I know my way around the big names — Merckx, Coppi, Anquetil, Hinault, LeMond — but there are still large chunks of time unaccounted for.

So when the new Team 7-Eleven book came across my desk (OK, moved to my desk from somebody else’s desk), I had to dig into it. I knew a bit about the team, but only a bit.

As it turns out, I’ve actually met three former team members and raced against one. And I had no idea how instrumental Eric Heiden was in the formation of the team. Moreover, until reading the book I mistakenly believed Heiden, who won five speedskating gold medals in the 1980 Lake Placid Olympics, was from somewhere Scandinavian.

Hey, cut me some slack. I was 3 in 1980.

And when you think about all the team was up against — obscurity, no money, Euro hate — it’s amazing it came together at all, let alone thrived.

Consider how foreign cycling is to the mainstream public — I can’t begin to count how many times I’ve explained a criterium — and imagine how it was 30 years ago. We had four US-based WorldTour teams in 2011 and the sport is still mired in a repeating loop of doping history rather than current events and race reports.

But it’s something. It’s growing. Without Team 7-Eleven, though, there’s a fair chance we wouldn’t even have that.

You know how I mentioned a few weeks back about teetering on the edge of ‘cross infatuation? Well, I’m in deep now. Since the bike I’m on now is only a loaner — hey, thanks Jay and Kent! — I decided I needed something more permanent.

And after staring at spreadsheets for a week or two (Yeah, I made spreadsheets on potential builds, so what?), I finally pulled the trigger. Parts are arriving and being stockpiled, with a completion date not too far off.

I don’t imagine the disease gets any better from here.

The love you take

A while back I wrote about a particularly irksome motorist on one of the more popular northbound routes out of Omaha. Though he’d never done anything dangerous toward me, he had been cited for reckless driving in altercations with other cyclists.

No, the worst thing he did to me was flip me off every time he saw me. And that’s not awful, I guess, but it’s not exactly friendly.

Since I wrote that post, I hadn’t seen that driver. Every time we rolled past his house, his car was in the driveway. I never saw it move.

As it turned out, that guy died in early August. And this is where I point out that while I didn’t want him to harass any more cyclists, I also didn’t want him to be … you know, dead.

One of my friends posted a link on his blog in June to a newspaper article in which the motorist in question was formally cited for his actions. It was nothing inflammatory, but rather a factual account of what happened.

When we found out this guy died, we took to the Internet to find out more about him. Mostly it was a case of, “Who is this guy?” When we entered his name in a Google search, the first result was my buddy’s blog post about the on-road incidents and citations.

And then, farther down, we found a proper obituary. Think about that — this guy’s lasting digital legacy is of being a jerk to his fellow human beings. While those close to him may or may not have known that already, but if anybody Googles his name, that’s what they get.

One could call that karma, I suppose. But it underscores what can happen when we get too involved in our own little problems and trials. Why is that bike in my way? Why do I have to wait? Why can’t I go faster?

The answer? Relax. Be nice. Don’t let your legacy be a post about your interpersonal skills on some random cyclist’s blog.

~

I did my first two ‘cross races last weekend. Rather than ease into things with a shorter race perhaps better suited to my lack of skills, ability and all-around talent, I entered the hour-long Cat. 1/2/3 throwdown.

Because why not? I race against those guys on the road; why wouldn’t I race against them in ‘cross? As it turns out, those dudes are faster than me on grass, too.

Regardless, it was still pretty fun. I’ll probably race a few more times this fall and pull the plug in early November for my annual “Don’t do anything but ride really slow and easy” training camp. It’s one of my favorite times of the year.

On the edge

I put new tires on my ‘cross bike the other day. The Fango, from Challenge. They’re really nice.

And despite making my bike feel like it had Velcro tires, enabling me to take corners far hotter than I should have, the Fangos have left me conflicted. Not because of the cost, not because of the bling factor (seriously, they look cool).

No, it’s deeper than that. As road riding and racing is my thing, it’s what I’ve focused on most during the spring and summer months. Fall is merely the time where we chill out, ride lots of steady miles and stop at whatever coffee shop catches our attention.

Intensity? Hardly. Sprints? Please.

Running and jumping and mud and dirt? Wait … what? No way.

I approached ‘cross this fall as a nice way to pass the time — to do something different. I figured, “Hey, I have a bike. I have a month or two before Kid No. 2 is set to arrive. Why not?”

See? No pressure. No expectations. Just go rip around on some grass and stay fit.

And yet I found myself on Wednesday morning staring at a pair of Fangos after slipping around at ‘cross practice a week prior. “Hmmm … yeah. I bet I could really lean into that one corner … .”

Before I realized it, they were on my bike. And I was psyched about practice that night. And then I started thinking about the upcoming local races. My previous goals included “have some fun” and “don’t embarrass myself.” Those goals remain, but they’re tacked alongside “stay with the lead group” and “attack in the second half of the race.”

How did this happen? How did my lazy fall activity turn into something that gets analyzed and tweaked for better performance? Did you know I’m considering running full housing to my rear derailleur? Why? I have no idea. But my bike can do it — and run it internally — and I don’t want things to get gunked up at an inopportune time.

I’m guessing this whole “ramping up” has to do with the dynamics at play when you tell a bunch of racers — road and mountain alike — to line up at the end of a field and beat the hell out of each other for an  hour. At some point, you’re going to buy in and throw it into the big ring.

I think that point came when I spun my warmup lap the other night.

“Oh, yeah. This is gonna be awesome!”

‘Tis the season

I spent a good portion of last night flogging myself on a cyclocross bike. I’ve been doing that for about a month now, though I’m still not sure why. It always seems like a good idea at the beginning, but halfway through you really just feel like throwing up.

I had a pretty solid road season, all things considered. But the road season ended in July here in Nebraska — at least for racing. There were other races around, but time and money and desire were all in short supply. So it’s been a while since I raced.

We started ‘cross practices five or six weeks ago, mainly because we have a few guys in these parts who are gunning for the UCI Masters World Championships in January. What better way to improve than by heading out to your favorite grassy patch and getting punched in the face for 90 minutes?

At the time, the first races were a little less than two months away. (They’re now just over two weeks away.) I was doing it mainly as a way to engage in something different. And though the workouts were harder, they were significantly shorter. Getting home before my son’s bedtime is always a plus. So I’ve become a part-time ‘crosser. And those races two weeks from now? Yeah … I’ll be there.

As we were rolling back to the shop last night, we pointed out two semi-important bits of information. One, it was cold. Not winter cold, but “first hints of fall” cold. It was only 60 for the high yesterday, but it was 52 or 53 as we rode back. Two, it was dark.

Two weeks ago I’d taken to using light colored lenses in my sunglasses, mainly because with dark lenses, the shadowy areas of the park we’re using are pretty much blackout zones. Even with lighter lenses, it was dark last night.

And I guess that’s the first real sign that we’re on the downhill slide. Colder mornings and nights, waning sunshine in the late afternoon … winter is coming. If there’s an upshot to all of this — and there is, slightly — it being able to shop for new cold-weather cycling clothes. Do I need more? Probably not. But that doesn’t mean I’m not going to look.

Upshot number two comes courtesy of Mad Alchemy. In that product description it says I open up a jar and use it at my desk like a wickless candle. That is absolutely true. I used some on my legs last night, too. Today I’ll open up the jar for the first time this year and breathe in the scent of fall.

Of course, within two months that scent will symbolize preparations for several hours of freezing, but for right now, it’s a welcome change. Some people get psyched about Pumpkin Spice Latte returning to Starbucks. We get psyched about the smell of embrocation.

Yeah, that seems about right.

Wonderboy

If you’ve been in society at any point in the last … well, forever … you’ve noticed how very special and unique every single kid in the world is. Most likely, you were tipped to that by their parents, who told you how special and unique their kid is.

It’s hard to beat parental pride, I guess.

I mentioned my son, who just turned 4, in this post earlier this summer. After seeing smaller kids go faster than him, he wanted an upgrade. He’s now ditched that upgrade and made a pretty big step: The training wheels are gone.

And now I’m the guy telling everybody about his kid. After a long ride around the neighborhood on his Strider, he asked to ride more when we got home. On a whim, I removed the training wheels from his 12-inch bike and rolled it out. He climbed on, coasted down the driveway and headed off down the sidewalk.

Just like that.

He stopped one driveway down, wild-eyed and grinning wider than I’ve ever seen. “I did it, Daddy!” he said. And then: “Let’s do it again.”

With the exception of a little incident – a hill and forgetting how to use his brakes (or at least ditch into the grass) – all has been well. And though the hill incident scared him a bit, his enthusiasm hasn’t dimmed in the least.

Every night he wolfs down his supper, says “please” and “thank you” almost too much and then asks if he can go ride his bike. When rain was threatening, he was almost in tears at the prospect of staying inside.

I have no idea how long that will last, but I’m going to soak in every moment.

We all settled on bikes for a variety of reasons. For some it’s competition, for others it’s transportation, and for others still it’s fitness. Some just like being outside. But looking into my son’s eyes, I saw the prime reason: Joy.

Bikes are awesome. Riding a bike is even more awesome. I’m reminded of that every time my son asks if he can race me on the sidewalk.

I’ll never say no.

All For You

At its core, a business is only as good as the service it provides to its customers. Sure, you can have lots of cool stuff to hawk, but if you can’t take care of anybody it doesn’t really matter.

To that end, we’ve made a few changes around these parts. They’re changes that will make things better for everybody, but the end result is you get your cool stuff without nearly as much effort on our part. And it will be easier to find and order your cool stuff to begin with. Everybody wins.

Start with the main page. The whole smash has been redesigned to make it easier to navigate. New stuff on the right, sale stuff below that and a whole bunch of categories on the left. And roll your pointer over one of the categories — we have subcategories, too.

OK, we had those before, but there are a few new ones out there worth checking out. Need a new helmet? We have those now. A pair of sunglasses? Some new Sidis?

Or how about this:

Yep. You want a bike? We can get you a bike. This one is the Trek Madone 3.1, which was redesigned for 2012 and has a full SRAM Apex drivetrain. In person, that blue is something to behold.

And this is just the start. With our move to the new platform, we can offer you better (and faster) service, better variety and, overall, a better experience. We cannot, however, make you better on the bike. We can make you look good, though.

But wait … there’s more.

On October 1, or thereabouts, our brick-and-mortar store sites will go live for online purchases as well. The entire Bontrager (Trek’s in-house accessories brand) catalog will be available for purchase. That means the new RXXXL road shoe can be yours (and it should be, because it’s awesome), you can grab a pair of commuting knickers (again, awesome) or score a new jacket for winter riding (I didn’t try it on, but it looks pretty awesome).

The depth and quality of Bontrager’s 2012 product line impressed even us, and we’re well past being easily impressed. The clothing will be spot-on, the shoes are amazing and the wheels … oh, the wheels. You’ll be able to get it all.

Welcome to the next step in the evolution of VeloGear.com. Enjoy the ride.

Take a Note: Your Logo Is Not That Important

As a disclaimer, I’ll note this right now: I’ve never taken a design class or anything anywhere close to it. That said, I’ve never taken a journalism class, either, and I seem to have figured out how to string words together in a semi-coherent manner.

Now, with that out of the way, I have something for you designers (or would-be designers): Stop using your logo as the centerpiece for whatever half-baked design you’re cooking up. Your logo is not that cool.

As a semi-important employee of a soft-goods company, I’ve been on the new-product preview trail for a few weeks now. We’re well into the spring 2012 lines by now, so we’ve seen all shades of every color, with every kind of pattern, texture or shading imaginable. Some of it is very, very good. Some of it is very, very awful.

Some of it, like yours truly on a bike, is very, very average.

The stuff that stands out – the really great stuff – you’ll see here next spring. They’re most often a marriage between style and function, between eye-catching and edgy.

The stuff that won’t be seen here typically offended with design, more so than color. Most often, the design centered around a manufacturer’s logo in a garish bit of chest-thumping.

For example, though this jersey features its manufacturer’s logo prominently, it’s a part of the design, not the sole basis of the design. If you changed the wordmark to say “BIKE,” it would still look pretty great.

On the other hand, clothing that features a design built around prominent display of a logo – picture a big chest shield with a big logo in the middle and sunbeam-type rays radiating around it. In that case, the design is slave to the logo. It’s only as good as the logo featured, and most often that logo isn’t very good.

The ideal kit, to me at least, has a great-looking design that makes someone say, “Wow, sweet kit. Who makes it?” That same person should not say, “Wow, guess (insert company here) is really proud of its brand, huh?”

Good design finds a place for your logo. Good design creates an identity that can identify your brand better than any logo rendered in high-viz yellow splatter paint ever could.

Design drives style. Logos do not. Plan accordingly.

Bringing It All Back Home

When I’m not pulling witty copy out of thin air, I run a bike shop. We sell Trek bikes and accessories. It’s a nice gig. Bikes are cool, and getting to spend my days surrounded by them is even cooler.

But no matter how sunshiny your personality, everything becomes a drag at some point. Even though I can count on one hand the number of days I’ve dreaded coming to work in the last 2.5 years – it’s two – it’s nice to get away and recharge.

Traditionally, a trade show is not the place to find relaxation and renewed sense of purpose. The typical progression is as follows: Yay, bikes! Hey, more bikes. Didn’t we have this for dinner yesterday? Please stop talking to me. No more bikes.

This year at Trek World, the company’s annual dealer show in Madison, Wisc., the guests of honor were not the bikes themselves, but the core of the Leopard Trek team: Andy and Frank Schleck, Fabian Cancellara and Jens Voigt.

Or, basically, instant crowd approval.

We got our first glimpse at the Monday-afternoon demo at Trek HQ, which is down the road from Madison in Waterloo, Wisc. Having just finished their factory tour, the boys were enjoying lunch and having what appeared to be a pretty good time.

Later, as I was checking out some of the new women’s bike options, I overheard Voigt discussing the merits (or drawbacks) of 650b wheels for smaller road bikes with one of the demo attendants. He was just like the rest of us – talking bikes and snacking on an ice cream bar. (Mmmmm, ice cream.)

Cancellara rode the Sandcrawler, which is a beach cruiser with gigantic tires. Frank Schleck was delivering ice cream with a fan via a tandem trike, complete with a cooler on the back.

In short, they were having fun. Bikes are fun.

That kind of enthusiasm is infectious. The vibe carried through to the evening, when long, long lines queued up for autographs. The slowest-moving line: Voigt’s, because he talked to EVERYBODY.

Sure, the drudgery of creeping through the show floor, taking notes and reworking inventory and floor plans can wear on a guy. But that’s what the bikes are for. Get up, slug down some coffee, kit up and get out there. Riding on new roads with like-minded people can buoy the spirits for the rest of the day.

Though we spent all day Wednesday traveling and today will be a long haul full of catching up, I cannot wait to get out on the bike tomorrow morning. If I get my way, I might even sneak out tonight.

What did I learn about 2012 products? They’re going to be cool. There’s good stuff coming.

What was I reminded of while I was away? Bikes are fun. They’ll always be fun. And that’s why I’m here.

It’s From the Future!

Enjoying your summer? I am, for the most part. I could have done without the ER trip for my son, who was only following directions when he jumped over the fresh sod in the back yard. We told him not to step on it, true, but we didn’t say “don’t jump over it, miss the landing and whack your chin against the edge of the porch steps.”

We should be more specific next time.

But summer itself is a good thing. And it’s so good that we’re already thinking about what kind of products will live here next summer. The downside of that kind of forward thinking is when we have to talk fall/winter clothing as winter itself is waning. When it’s just starting to get warm, the last thing you need to see is a trunk full of windproof-this, waterproof-that, triple-thermal-lining wonderment.

No, you just want to go ride — in summer kit.

But the summer-clothing preview? At least you can still imagine wearing that stuff. And so far, the most interesting of that stuff is from Castelli, clothier of Team Garmin-Cervelo. Long known for its technical prowess and innovation, Castelli has upped the bar once again for 2012.

The piece garnering the most attention is the Sanremo Speedsuit:

Remember Milan-San Remo 2009, when Heinrich Haussler, then of Cervelo Test Team (now Garmin-Cervelo), got pipped at the line by Mark Cavendish? Haussler was wearing a standard jersey-and-shorts combo that day. And it was a long day. Milan-San Remo is nearly 300km long — almost seven hours on the bike. How much of a difference would more aerodynamic kit make?

And that’s not to say Haussler’s kit wasn’t aerodynamic to begin with. But could it have been more like a skinsuit — slipperier — but with the features of a standard jersey — the zipper and pockets? The Sanremo Speedsuit came out of that discussion, and was worn to victory in this year’s Paris-Roubaix by Johan Van Summeren of Garmin-Cervelo.

As you can see in the picture, it looks an awful lot like a skinsuit. It’s Castelli’s Body Paint short fused to an Aero Race jersey. The business parts of it fit like a skinsuit — it’s tight around the shoulders, hips and legs. But it has a full-length zipper and three pockets like a normal jersey.

Mark, one of our buyers, thinks we’ll all be racing in it (and maybe even training in it) within five years. I can see his point — aero benefits of a skinsuit but the convenience of a jersey-and-bibs setup. And by convenience, I mean peeing. Having to visit the bathroom after you’ve put a skinsuit on is like dressing a kid for a blizzard and then hearing, “I have to go potty,” right as you’re pushing them out the door.

Hmmm … aero and easy to pee in … sign me up.

Of course, I need more kit like I need another bike in the garage. And I can’t really race in it, as we have team kit and all. But I’ll get it anyway, because it’s awesome. And if there’s one word that describes me my wardrobe, it’s awesome.

Price-wise, it’ll retail at $300, which sounds like a lot for one piece. But when you consider its construction — a $250 short mated to a $160 jersey — that’s not bad at all. The only downside I can think of is crashing. If you blow out the shorts, you’ve effectively toasted a jersey, too.

But the answer to that is easy. Just don’t crash. No problem, right?

You Need Not Attack To Win the Tour

What follows has really nothing to do with actually winning the Tour de France. Of course you need to attack to win. Or, at the very least, you can follow somebody else when they attack, then kill ‘em in the closing time trial.

No, the kind of attack we’re talking about today is the kind that assaults the eyes. The kind that makes you wonder if there’s anybody in a WorldTour bus capable of saying no. It’s the kind of attack that ends up with kit like this:

Really, Sammy Sanchez? What are you, a jockey?

If there was one thing Lance Armstrong was good at during his seven-year run — other than riding his bike very quickly, of course — it was looking the part of a Tour de France leader. No banana suits. No all-yellow bikes. Just a yellow jersey and team shorts. And sometimes a personalized helmet. Or, in other words, act like you’ve been there before.

When Thomas Voeckler took over the race lead this year, he’d been there before — a 10-day run in yellow in 2004. But he was all over the map in terms of style.

Black and yellow shorts.

All black shorts.

And the complete banana ensemble, but without the yellow bike.

There’s a line in Bull Durham when Crash Davis (Kevin Costner) is talking to Nuke LaLoosh (Tim Robbins) about the latter’s shower shoes being moldy:

“Your shower shoes have fungus on them. You’ll never make it to the bigs with fungus on your shower shoes. Think classy, you’ll be classy. If you win 20 in the show, you can let the fungus grow back and the press’ll think you’re colorful. Until you win 20 in the show, however, it means you are a slob.”

Think classy, you’ll be classy. You think Eddy Merckx wore yellow shorts? Did Fausto Coppi go all pink in the Giro? No and no. Armstrong often canceled his classiness out when he started talking, but you have to admit one thing: He looked good on that bike.

Where is all of this going? Behold, your 2011 Tour de France champion:

Despite his past offenses in yellow, Cadel Evans defined class when he pulled on the jersey after his Tour-winning time trial. Team shorts, yellow jersey, nothing crazy with the bike. His BMC team sported yellow Oakleys on Sunday in Paris. And that’s it. Nice.

Of course, he rode a pretty classy race as well. When gaps opened and nobody jumped to close them, Evans did. When Andy Schleck went off to play in the mountains, Evans wound up the chase and limited his losses. And don’t forget his Stage 4 victory on that long, uphill drag.

Think classy, you’ll be classy. Thank you, Cadel Evans, for winning the Tour with class … and also not looking like a spaz while doing it.