April 10, 2014
Paris Roubaix is a race of unknowns. What the riders can’t control, what looms in their futures, haunts them until the pop of the starter’s pistol. In the days prior to the race, they’ll check the weather repeatedly. Some will hope for rain so that the peloton is tamer and thins out quickly, while others will pray for sun so that the cobbles will be dry. The race is one of attrition, position, and luck. It requires preparation, mental resilience, and physical strength. It will create champions. It will shred skin, bruise, and break bodies. It will fuel dreams. It will inspire.
The night before, and on the bus heading to the start, the riders’ demeanor will be unlike any other race. Every rider knows his body will be pummeled by the race. The question is, how badly? (Continue reading)
March 27, 2014
The protagonists who will animate the Tour of Flanders, Paris Roubaix, Liege-Bastogne-Liege, and the other Spring Classics will fine tune their fitness and test their legs in less prestigious races throughout late March. The cobbled Classics specialists will race in Belgium at E3 Harelbeke, Dwars door Vlaanderen, and the Three Days of de Panne, while those who aim to be in good condition for the hillier Ardennes Classics, in late April, will be at the Tour of Catalonia and the Tour of the Basque Country. The peloton racing in Belgium will battle for position on the windswept farm roads and thunder over the cobbles while the peloton in Spain will ride week-long races in the hills and mountains. Few riders will cross over the divide. (Continue reading)
(photos by Camille McMillan)
March 21, 2014
A plate of half eaten nachos sat on the table, Doug leaned back and quoted W.P Kinsella’s book, Shoeless Joe, “If you build it, they will come.” It wasn’t the first time I had heard him repeat the line. Unlike the novel’s protagonist, Ray Kinsella, whose dream was to build a baseball diamond, Doug’s was to build a velodrome. For over a decade he’d looked for a field within riding distance of his hometown of Boulder, Colorado, where he could build a track.
In his dreams, this wasn’t a fancy facility that would cost a fortune, but a board track in a yard with a few port-a-potties, an announcer calling the races, dozens of riders whirling around, and a small crowd of spectators in the stands that are munching on popcorn and drinking beer under the summer sun. When I first met Doug Emerson, he’d described it just like that. (Continue reading)
March 14, 2014
Every winter, teams from all over the world travel to warmer climates to train for the coming races. For 10 to 14 days, the riders spend every hour of the day with their teammates: they eat together, ride together, and even share hotel rooms. In fact, there are few solitary moments when they aren’t with a teammate. For most teams, this is the only time of the year where the entire team will be together in one place.
After the camp, the squad will be fractioned off into different parts of world. Of the 20 to 30 riders on a team, groups of six to nine riders might be racing in three different countries at one time. There’s a chance that some teammates may never see each other during the racing season, as they’ll have entirely different race schedules — the riders who focus on the early-season one day races may never ride with those building towards the Tour de France. For others, it may also be the only time that they’ll train with their teammates, as each rider will travel to the races from their home base. So, out of necessity, some riders’ closest training partners wind up also being their rivals at the races. Needless to say, there are few team sports where rival athletes will train together between events. (Continue reading.)
February 24, 2014
In much of North America, snow is continuing to fall. We ride indoors, ski, skate, run, and workout in the gym in order to maintain some level of fitness, while elevating our endorphins to keep the mental balance that we’ve become accustomed to with daily exercise. However, there are those who embrace the extremes and head outdoors to ride, turning what could be a lousy day into an adventure.
Somewhere, decades ago, I read a story about Andy Hampsten, Davis Phinney, and Ron Kiefel riding on the dirt mountain roads in Colorado. On their long training rides, up and over 10,000 feet, they discovered roads that they didn’t know existed and places that they’d never seen. When I lived in Boulder, I got to experience that sense of adventure with Andy. On our mountain bikes, we rode on the snow-covered dirt roads to a ski station at 9,000 feet, where my wife met us with our cross-country skis. Some cyclists choose to stay on roads that they know, sticking to a routine. Others seek adventure and are constantly in search of new and novel experiences to test their limits. (Continue reading.)
February 13, 2014
For ages, cyclists assumed that narrower tires were better. Time trial bikes were fitted with 19mm tires, as we thought that they would slice through the air better than a 23mm. The rider cautiously rode to the start line, avoiding any bumps or road grit, for the fear that the tires might be punctured. We’d pump them rock hard, as we thought that harder tires created less rolling resistance. We also thought that narrower and harder tires were more aerodynamic, rolled faster, and were more responsive. Well, they aren’t.
In the last five years, all of our old theories have been proven wrong. Wider tires and tubulars are now the norm on almost all professional team bikes, including time trial bikes. Not only do wider tires roll faster, but they’re also more resilient, comfortable, and aerodynamic when paired with the right rim.
At the start of each new year, professional teams provide their riders with a supply of clincher tires and tubes to get them through a season of training. During my 14-year professional racing career we went from riding on 21- or 23-millimeter tires to 25s. The wider tires allowed us to venture off of the smooth tarmac and onto bumpier gravel roads. I rode up into the mountains, discovering new areas and climbs. I would arrive home without neck and back pain…. (Continue reading)
February 10, 2014
Riding along the bike path to the heart of the city, several electric bikes pass me, giving me a slight startle each time as their silence allows for no warning before I see them. I pass others that are moving slowly; their riders are often slouched in the saddles with their feet resting on pedals that get little or no use. An e-rider’s position most often appears as if they’re lounging as opposed to riding.
In the last two years, electric scooters and bicycles have become increasingly common on city streets and bike paths. Most of these machines aren’t designed to be pedaled over any distance: their weight is limiting and the frame geometry ill-suited for dynamic pedaling. They look more like scooters than bicycles, with dodgy pedals added so that they can be considered legally as bicycles instead of either mopeds or motor scooters. This is basically just to skirt parking, licensing, and insurance laws. But since most e-bikes are simply electric versions of mopeds, they should really fall into the same category and be subject to the same laws. (Continue reading)
February 1, 2014
Bicycles are not only vehicles and sports equipment, they’re sometimes viewed as pieces of art. Many frame builders make bicycles so elegant that they can be hung on dining room walls. Like a painting, poetry, or music, their bicycles tell a unique story that will only grow richer with time or with each kilometer ridden. In contrast, most artists struggle to draw or paint a bicycle on a canvas or a piece of paper. But there are a few artists who have managed to properly convey the bicycle’s beauty and appeal in their work.
Over 40 years ago, Daniel Rebour drew bicycles and components in a style that captured qualities matched by photographs. Printed in manufacturers’ catalogues and magazines, particularly Le Cycle, his work gave the objects a unique allure. As a boy, I would pore over the Rebour drawings in my father’s collection of magazines and books, memorizing the details of Eddy Merckx’s bikes. (Continue reading)
January 23, 2014
Traffic in large cities has made teaching children to ride bicycles difficult. Allowing them to venture around the block on a bicycle alone, as past generations did, is worrisome for parents. Even for experienced cyclists, riding in traffic can be daunting. Drivers speed through neighborhoods, rushing to get to work, to get their kids to soccer practice, to pick them up from school, or to go for coffee while chatting on phones or texting. Now that modern traffic no longer allows kids to ride up and down many streets, where can we safely teach them to ride, race, and have fun? The answer might be on a grass track.
Grass track racing was once a popular discipline in Britain and northern France. In some areas, it still is. The format is simple. Set out on a soccer field or cricket pitch, on a 400-meter, smooth grass oval that’s marked with chalk and wooden stakes. (Continue reading)
January 18, 2014
The global reach of professional cycling extends further with each passing season. The World Tour peloton begins the racing season in Australia in January and finishes in China in late October. In between, they are not only racing in central Europe and North America, but in the Middle East and northern Africa. The internationalization has livened the sport by reaching new markets, providing an influx of sponsorship, public interest, money, and competition. But the rapid expansion into parts of the world that were previously unknown to cycling may also be coming at some expense to the riders’ health.
Bike racing is a tough and dangerous sport. Cyclists accept the risks and are aware of the demands, but it may be time for limits. In sport, athletes shouldn’t be asked to risk their lives for our entertainment. Continue reading.