Archive for June, 2011

June 13, 2011

Organizers — and riders — need to take responsibility for race safety

As we reach the town’s limits, the peloton dives off a four-lane road into a tight bend. Brakes screech. Our speed drops from 60 to 20 kilometers an hour. The peloton balloons then bottlenecks going into the corner. Over 200 riders funnel onto the narrow street and accelerate towards the maze of the city center. As the peloton files out of the bend, it has become one long ribbon. The line of cyclists will snake through the town, skimming signposts, jumping speed bumps, and bouncing over cobbles and tram tracks. Using blind faith, we follow the wheels of the riders ahead of us closely. The effort is exponentially harder for the riders at the back because of the elastic effect of the peloton. Some riders will be blurry eyed from the intensity. Tired, panicked, or both, riders lose focus. Inevitably, mistakes are made and crashes follow. Within the town, we hear the occasional shrill whistle from a road marshal at a roundabout. But few of the dangerous elements on the course are signaled. We rely on instinct and experience.

Cycling is inherently dangerous. We accept that we’ll race over cobbles, rub elbows in sprints and descend mountains at high speed. But most cyclists agree that crashes are now more frequent than they were just a few years ago. While we accept risks are part of our jobs, we shouldn’t accept conditions that are overwhelmingly dangerous and avoidable. Cycling doesn’t need to become an extreme sport to be intriguing, exciting and dramatic enough to captivate a television audience. A few simple changes could make them even more intriguing while minimizing the risk to the riders’ health and, indeed, their lives.

During this year’s Giro d’Italia few riders wanted to race up the Monte Crostis, a narrow mountain road with a steep dirt descent. The mountain was included in the course to create a spectacle. Monte Crostis is picturesque and I’m sure the images would have been dramatic. But it wasn’t worth putting the riders’ lives in danger. Most riders feared the descent. In response, the organizers placed snow fences at the corners in the hope that they would catch riders before they plummeted to the valley below.

Tragically, one of our colleagues, Wouter Weylandt, died on a technical descent on the second stage of the Giro, adding to our fear as Monte Crostis approached in the final 10 days of the race. The night before the stage, however, Monte Crostis was removed from the course. But it was not concern for the riders’ safety that ultimately brought the change. Rather it was complaints from the directeurs. The road up and down Monte Crostis was too narrow for team cars. Our health was secondary. Finally, the Giro organizers gave in to the race commissaires’ demand to eliminate the climb. But they were clearly disgusted and publically critical of the decision. The cyclists, like the animals in a dodgy circus, are just a part of the show.

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June 7, 2011

Pinarello Pinball Colours

When we were kids, my good friend Noah Rosen and I spent most afternoons and weekends racing our bikes up and down the neighborhood streets. At nightfall the races would end, and we’d retire to the basement with a bowl of popcorn to make forts, watch movies and play his father’s vintage pinball machine. Noah still remembers the evenings fondly, “ When we were playing pinball the room would be glowing in the darkness of the basement. But, maybe it was just our childhood enthusiasm.”

We’re still good friends and ride together whenever I’m back in Toronto. Noah now runs Velocolour and paints frames beautifully. Earlier this year we decided it might be fun to collaborate on project together, as we’d done at art school when we were kids. The idea was to paint a Pinarello with a unique design, which told a story. The frame would then be auctioned with the proceeds going to Right to Play, an organization that brings sport to children in disadvantaged areas. Within the project and design there are elements of our youth, which tie it all together.

After bouncing umpteen ideas off each other we agreed the frame should be painted with vintage pinball machine graphics. Noah succinctly said, “The connection made sense as a starting point. Childhood memories of us playing together, being kids, formed the design of the paint scheme, which would hopefully raise money for other kids to do the same thing.”

Often, while riding in the middle of a peloton or in the midst of city traffic I have the feeling I’m the ball within the machine, bouncing off bumpers, shooting through holes, and accelerating when it is clear. When I find the flow of the peloton, or the city traffic, the feeling is sublime.

Pinarello kindly donated a 55 cm Prince carbon frame for us to use as the canvas.

The auction will take place at the end of June. Details will be posted soon.

Here are some of the photos of the project development. I’ll post more photos of the frame in the coming days.