Archive for the Equipment Category

November 16, 2013

Grime and Grease

 

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Arriving home, I pull off my sweater. The scent of the workshop has woven its way into the fabric: grease, paint, rubber, flux, and oil. In the aromas, I can identify each distinct chemical, but together they mean only one thing. I inhale for half a second as I pull off the sweater. To me, it is the aroma of bikes being built and torches with flames heating tubes in the hands of craftsmen wearing dark glasses and royal blue aprons. It is the smell of fresh paint, ball bearings being carefully placed in cups of white grease, and tubulars being glued to new rims.

An hour before, while working on the bike, the odor was unnoticeable. I was immersed in it. Now, at home, the shop aromas clash with the manufactured floral scents of laundry soap, shampoos, and household cleaners. I’ve scrubbed my hands, repeatedly, but they’re still stained black. The darkness of grime also marks the lines on my hands, like reverse fingerprints, etching the crevasses, and accentuating the callouses formed over thousands of hours by gripping brake levers tight, while climbing, while sprinting, while holding my bars as my bicycle bounced beneath me on cobbles. Read on. 

November 8, 2013

Bikes

Like most cyclists, I have several bikes hanging in my garage. Which is my favorite? That’s easy—the Mariposa porteur bike that my father built for me eight years ago. I cherish it, because he built the frame and the carriers, with their simple beauty, and he then carefully selected the parts. But I also cherish it for the memorable rides it has provided. Trips to friends’ houses, back and forth to my dad’s shop, around town with my family discovering parks and back alleys, or out on the town for a night with my wife, Dede. On a bike, the city seems to growl, blossom, spew, chatter, and come alive. In a car, it is a passing scene. Read on.
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June 16, 2012

Wheeled Pupils

Recently, Team Sky asked the riders to design T-Shirts. It was a fun project, which my family helped me out with– my wife, Dede, came up with some ideas while our boys coloured in the sketches. In the end, we settled on the design below that is being sold here. Antidote, who designed our team Sky clothing, refined the images. Behind the image of the peloton reflected in the sunglasses there is a brief story that sparked the idea:

When I was a young boy, my parents returned home from my third grade parent/teacher interviews and told me what they had learned. The teacher’s comments were positive, she was content with my participation and my work. But, as they wrapped up the meeting she said, “At times Michael’s mind is off in the distance, in another land. It is as if I can see bicycle wheels spinning in his eyes”. This wasn’t surprise to my parents or the teacher. With a cycling cap in my backpack, bike brand stickers on my textbooks and photos of Fignon, Merckx and Mottet taped to my binders, I spent hours daydreaming of riding and racing. The T-shirt was designed to reflect the passion of the spectator and the dreams of cyclists.

While racing the Tour of Switzerland with the team, I put together this playlist for us to listen to on the bus before and after the stages: Rainy Day Sunshine-Suisse2012

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.

November 16, 2010

Workshops

A few weeks ago when the latest copy of Rouleur (issue 20) arrived in the mail. The cover  got me thinking about workshops. The cover shot was clearly staged but it sparked thoughts of real workshops, and specifically my father’s frameshop. There is something great about a work space where bikes are built from scratch. Creativity and the construction of something unique give a space an attractive element whether it is the back of a professional team’s truck or a dusty garage.

I’ve always been intrigued and enchanted by the builders as they brazed, filed and cut in my father’s frameshop in Toronto. Now, my lifelong friend, Noah Rosen, brazes and paints frames in the old workshop with the precision of a craftsman and the eye of an artist. He is passionate about his work and it is stirring to see his devotion to the job and his meticulous attention to detail.

Whenever I am back in Toronto, I relish my days in the shop and wish I had more time to learn from the artisans and artists who work there, as chat they over tea and discuss the things we love.

For the same reason, I also like watching the team mechanics at work on our bikes. They methodically check tires for cuts, true wheels, tape handlebars and pay attention to all the details that make the difference between good and great. Committed to doing their jobs properly, they rarely join us for dinner as they opt to stay out in the truck, late into the night, working on our bikes or preparing equipment for the coming days of racing.

Although he’s now retired my father was asked to build another couple of Mariposa frames for artist Paul Butler. The job was one that was worth firing up the torches for as he was asked to build a replica of Greg Curnoe’s Mariposa. Curnoe’s painting of the bike is now in the National Gallery in Ottawa, Ontario. And, Curnoe who died on his bike when he was hit by a car was a close friend of my father’s.

Below are a few recent photos taken by Dan Bereskin of the workshop, and my Dad building the Curnoe replica. The others photos are of different workshops my father has had over the years and a few of the mechanics, painters and builders at work.

March 5, 2010

Classics

The Classics punish the riders, the bikes, the mechanics, team vehicles and soigneurs. The roads, the weather, and the intensity of the races drain teams. Each team prepares in its own way to deal with the wear of the races.

The Classics bikes are designed for comfort and practicality with frame clearance around the tires for mud, larger tires are used, special clothing is designed, team car suspensions are customized, wrists are taped, handlebars are padded, thicker chamois are fitted, and anything that can increase performance, comfort and durability is considered. The extremes of the Classics push the human and the bicycle.

Last weekend, in Het Volk and Kuurne Brussels Kuurne, we started the spring cobble campaign. As it was our first time back on the cobbles after almost a year away from the north our directeur sportifs, Scott Sunderland and Steven de Jongh flew us in a day early to preview the course.

Pedaling over the cobbles in training is entirely different to the race. While training, we don’t force like we do in the races, and therefore feel the bumps. At speed the bikes float over the stones with a unique fluidity. Tire pressure, tire diameter, and quality make a significant difference in performance. With low pressure the rider has more traction, the bike doesn’t bounce but floats beneath him, which also eases the wear on his body while also reducing punctures. Finding the right pressure is key as the bike must also perform well on the tarmac—too low a pressure only slows the rider on smooth surfaces. The other factor the mechanics consider when pumping the tires is how much air they lose during a six-hour race. Most tires lose a bar or two of pressure so they are pumped harder at the start of the race in expectation for the loss.

We have been testing several different tires. For the opening weekend I rode on FMB Roubaix tires—handmade cotton tires from northern France—, which were glued on to 32 hole rims and laced to Dura Ace hubs. The wheels handle incredibly well on the cobbles—personally I prefer the ‘classic’ aluminum wheels to the carbon rims although Flecha rode a carbon Shimano 35 to victory. I think a lot is dependent on the rider’s height, size and riding style.
The team has prepared a unique truck for the mechanics and soigneurs. Often, there is foul weather during the early part of the season and the mechanics suffer while working outdoors on the bikes in the pouring rain. So, the team has bought two trucks with pop-outs, which allow the mechanics to work on the bike indoors. They have a television, music and everything else a normal workshop might have so they can focus on the job instead of worrying about frozen hands and feet. The soigneurs area is equally as unique with space to prepare our race food, storage for the massage tables, a fridge, washer, dryer and everything else they need to take care of the team. Like our team bus, the truck is somewhere you actually want to hang out or work in, which in the end makes the long racing season much easier–comfort brings happiness, happiness brings performance.

February 17, 2010

Images From Valencia Training Camp

February 9, 2010

Mechanics’ Tools

As we spend more time on our bikes than on our feet, professional cyclists can feel a millimetre of difference between bikes, shoes or cleat position. The team mechanics have some beautifully made custom jigs to align everything so our bikes or our shoes (each rider has a spare pair of race shoes in the team car) are identical.

Being a professional team mechanic is a trade in Europe. Mechanics start working with teams as apprentices when they are in their late teens and work until they retire. Most mechanics have a profound understanding and passion for the job which makes them meticulous. When we win they also feel a sense of accomplishment and share the victory with the team of riders. A champion will keep the same staff with him through his entire career. Few of Johan Bruyneel’s soigneurs or mechanics have shuffled around between teams as Johan tries to hold on to the staff he has confidence in and can trust. Geoff Brown, the Canadian mechanic who works for Radio Shack, began with Motorola before moving to USPS, Discovery and Astana worked on my bike for many years. Never once did I step on my bike and have a problem or worry that it would fail. Julien deVriese, Radio Shack’s head mechanic, has worked with everybody from Merckx to Maertens to Lemond to Armstrong.  During Johan’s decade of dominance at the Tour de France they had few mechanical problems. DeVriese aged Lance’s Tour de France tubulars in a cellar for five years so the rubber was resistant to puncture while ours were aged for a few years.  While at the races, they were checked daily for cuts and changed often. The team rode a whole Tour of Spain with only one flat tire. The details make the difference.

I will follow up with some more photos and videos of the mechanics and soigneurs at work from our camp this week.

As we spend more time on our bikes than on our feet, professional cyclists can feel a millimetre of difference between bikes, shoes or cleat position. The team mechanics have some beautifully made custom jigs to align everything so our bikes or our shoes (each rider has a spare pair of race shoes in the team car) are identical.
> Being a professional team mechanic is a trade in Europe. Mechanics start working with teams as apprentices when they are in their late teens and work until they retire. Most mechanics have a profound understanding and passion for the job which makes them meticulous. When we win they also feel a sense of accomplishment and share the victory with the team of riders. A champion will keep the same staff with him through his entire career. Few of Johan Bruyneel's soigneurs or mechanics have shuffled around between teams as Johan tries to hold on to the staff he has confidence in and can trust. Geoff Brown, the Canadian mechanic who works for Radio Shack, began with Motorola before moving to USPS, Discovery and Astana worked on my bike for many years. Never once did I step on my bike and have a problem or worry that it would fail. Julien deVriese, Radio Shack's head mechanic, has worked with everybody from Merckx to Maertens to Lemond to Armstrong.  During Johan's decade of dominance at the Tour de France they had few mechanical problems. DeVriese aged Lance's Tour de France tubulars in a cellar for five years so the rubber was resistant to puncture while ours were aged for a few years.  While at the races, they were checked daily for cuts and changed often. The team rode a whole Tour of Spain with only one flat tire. The details make the difference.
> I will follow up with some more photos and videos of the mechanics and soigneurs at work from our camp this week.