Surely, you have experienced the thrill of obtaining a new bottle of chain lube. You haven’t? Well cycling’s most humble essential has a new trick up its sleeve with Muc-Off’s C3 Dry Ceramic Lube, so shut up about that power meter and hold on to your socks!
Already a high-performing dry lubricant that will clad a chain’s inner workings in a friction-fighting embrace, C3 also has the unusual ability to glow neon green under an included ultraviolet light. This quirky trait allows the user to verify a chain has drawn up just the right amount of lube, eliminating the guesswork that comes with most alternatives.
Granted, applying chain lubricant is hardly rocket science. Yet it is a novel joy to see precisely how well C3 works its way into the hundreds of articulations that comprise a bicycle chain. Making the task easier is a well-designed, narrow bottle with a built-in applicator around two inches in length.
Now, there is no way in the world I could possibly tell you whether C3 actually reduced the friction in my drivetrain to any measurable result. Are you crazy? All I can add here is that UK-based Muc-Off does sponsor Team Sky at the time of this writing, an organization that strikes me as a little…meticulous…when it comes to vetting performance.
What I can tell you, however, is that C3 has an uncanny ability to shed crud. After consecutive days of wet-road riding left my bike in shambles, I was surprised to look down and see my chain utterly gleaming against the mess of my cassette.
C3 is more viscous than the dry lube I am used to, and the feel of a lubricated chain reminded me somewhat of the way a chain feels when it is fresh from the box (awesome). The lube holds up over multiple days of abuse, is easy to apply and freakin’ glows. It glows, man!
More and more roadies have been wrapping their rims with bigger-volume tires in recent years, drawn by the appeal of smoother riding roads and better mixed-terrain grip. Yet this voluminous rolling stock has historically come with a significant performance penalty, as even the highest-end rims would slow their spin when clad in one of these heavy-duty commuter clinchers.
No longer! Take flight, Valkyrie!
Kenda’s Valkyrie Pro is the company’s new high-end road tire, and all-around performer touting great grip performance and built-in flat protection. The Valkyrie comes in both tubular and clincher versions that range from skinny-Minnie tubular 22c to a squishy-cushy (for roadies) 25c clincher. Kenda listed four versions at the time of this writing, though this tester would up with a mach-5-mush 28c version for demo purposes.
To experience this tire, I focused on the two areas I could predictably test – acceleration and grip.
The first sprint up a short ascent showed how quickly the Valkyrie spins up. This tire is indeed featherly for its size. The 28c Valkyrie Pro carries a listed median weight of 235 grams. By comparison, the latest version of Continental’s venerable Grand Prix 4000 S II clincher lists at 260 grams and 280 grams if you get the version with reflective sidewalls.
According to information from the company websites, to get within Kenda’s striking distance in weight at 28c would put a Continental rider on a 25c tire. Or you could just ditch your beloved titanium King Cage.
Next, on grip, the Valkyrie Pro inspires confidence. I won’t admit to being the kind of bike handler who can push a tire to its limits, but very fast mountain descending felt great on the Valkyrie, and better than this tester’s usual high-end 28c clincher. The handling felt comparable to the go-to performance clinchers that have long hogged the spotlight from Kenda, a company better known for its off-road offerings.
Puncture resistance was another area to test, though my approach here was a little less deliberate. The tires didn’t go flat, nuff said.
When you have mounted many different styles and brands of tires, you do get a sense of quality by sheer pliability in the hand. The Valkyrie compound, which Kenda calls R3C, is very tacky. Construction is consistent, and the soft folding tire readily takes its shape on the rim. Kenda claims its puncture resistant band, K-Armor, features a tighter weave for lower rolling resistance and lighter weight than the competition. These tires also come equipped with a reflective patch.
Kenda has never been top-of-mind for me in the world of road tires, but this tire is a killer on all counts. I was elated by the ride and would readily recommend the Valkyrie on almost all counts — fans of flashier color schemes might be disappointed in the “any color as long as it’s black” aesthetic available at the time of this writing.
The Valkyrie seems to have found the secret sauce to a lightweight tire that checks all the boxes. And while this particular tester is a fan of high-volume rubber, riders that prefer the classic 23c size will still find an compelling and quick-rolling option. MSRP for the clincher is $70, and the tubular, $100.
Welcome to InterBike 2016! Photo: Stephen Lam/element.ly
PURPLE PURPLE MORE PURPLE PLEASE Photo: Stephen Lam/element.ly
Everyone seems to be making their own cycling computers these days but one thing that caught my attention about this Stages Dash computer is its claim of 30-hour battery life. Hey, you can now record your entire 24 hr bike race in one charge! Photo: Stephen Lam/element.ly
Shouldn't this fall under the e-motorcycle category? Photo: Stephen Lam/element.ly
Otso Voytek got a good buzz throughout the show. Carbon frame that can take 27.5+ or 29+ AND up to 26 x 4.6” tires on 70 mm rims? Sign me up. Photo: Stephen Lam/element.ly
Lightweight's amazingly light Meilenstein has finally gone disc. The Meilenstein C Disc is a thing of beauty but was a bit disappointed to find out the rim width is still 20mm external and 17.8mm internal. photo: Stephen Lam/ element.ly
Giro's Factor Techlace sure looked different but it made a lot of sense after checking it out at the booth. Photo: Stephen Lam/element.ly
I have to admit I was drawn to the Orbea booth by the dazzle paint job on this prototype Terra gravel bike. Looks even better in person. photo: Stephen Lam/ element.ly
A 3D-printed Syntace FlatForce stem and a real Syntace FlatForce stem photo: Stephen Lam/ element.ly
Let's admit it, skinsuit is a pain to put on. But Giordana might have an answer with their Quick On zippered suit system. More aero than a bib/jersey combo but easier and more versatile than a traditional skinsuit. photo: Stephen Lam/ element.ly
Dario Pergoretti's paint work never ceases to impress and this Responsorium in Ravenna finish is just so fresh. photo: Stephen Lam/ element.ly
Just can't get enough of this 3T Exploro. photo: Stephen Lam/ element.ly
Slovenia-based Unior tools might not be a household brand here in the States, but they've been around since 1919 and chances are you will see the tools a lot more in the States this coming year. photo: Stephen Lam/element.ly
Australia-based Knog brought their newest Oi bell to Interbike. It's dramatically different than one's image of a bell, but it's an interesting take just like their line of LED blinker lights. photo: Stephen Lam/ element.ly
Old-school-esque e-bike, anyone? photo: Stephen Lam/ element.ly
Poor tire, its one and only job is just to be poked. Photo: Stephen Lam/element.ly
We had a glitch on the site in the days after InterBike, so this post is way past due but the unplanned slow down also meant more time to relive this year’s InterBike
While the gallery above is going to highlight all the fun stuff… Below are the observations from the show floor.
– First, the appointments. I got smart this year and did a bunch of appointments in advance to check out offerings from various brands. So my InterBike was more structured, with shots of adrenaline from random drive-bys to booths I didn’t know much about.
– The buzz I kept hearing was “it’s pretty quiet this year.” Well, that was true. The show was smaller than last year’s. I honestly could have just spent a day there. One industry veteran commented on how he/she was checking out people’s badges and noticed there weren’t as many buyers at the show as there used to be, and he/she would be pretty pissed if they got a booth… All about the ROI, guys.
– On the outskirts of the show floor was arguably where the fun was… I got a pitch about a solar USB charger stating “looks like you can use one of those” during day one. At the other end of the hall was also a booth that sells handheld electric massage devices. The massage device booth definitely saw an uptake in traffic on Thursday, possibly due to the walking from day one on the floor + CrossVegas hangover collab.
Really thought the days of scantily-clad booth women were a thing of past. But I was wrong. I mean, okay, sex (allegedly) sells. But wouldn’t money be better spent on making a better product instead of having models promoting shitty products (and offending the female attendees while at it)?
Amount of broken arms/legs: It dawned on me during day two that there were quite a few people in slings/braces. Guess adventure shows must have a few of those around. As one rep put it “they’re getting after it”.
Reception of e-Bike: Last year was all about e-bike bashing and all of a sudden e-bikes are the future this year.
The international aisle. Probably the quieter, less buzz sections but everyone there was pretty cool to talk to (knowing Mandarin and Cantonese definitely helped) and they really deserve more recognition for their efforts of travelling across the globe to Las Vegas to showcase their products, whether it’s the gazillion lights, matte carbon fiber parts, or aluminum parts in all the imaginable anodized colors one can possibly dream of.
Best snack from the show: Vanilla Ice Cream at the Skratch booth made with their new recovery drink mix. Not only was the line 4,000 times shorter than the Starbucks line outside but it was also freaking delicious. Way different than the typical “come by our booth for free booze” hook too.
Last thing I did at the show: tried an e-bike at the rep’s prudent suggestion, only to make it 30 plus feet before a security guard rolled up and warned “no biking on the show floor”. Returned the bike to the booth, walked down the aisle, and was greeted by two bros zipping past on motorized scooters.
The Bontrager TLR Flash Charger floor pump. The silver barrel is the pump and the bigger, black cylinder is the air chamber for tubeless. Photo: Stephen Lam/ Element.ly
We wish the PSI gauge have more markers for more precise reading. Photo: Stephen Lam/ Element.ly
Flip the red lever down to charge the chamber for tubeless. Flip it again to release the air, or use it just as a normal pump.
Photo: Stephen Lam/ Element.ly
The pump head is plastic but it worked liked a champ during out test, gripping both schrader and presta value with ease.
Photo: Stephen Lam/ Element.ly
The red lever and the bleed valve. Photo: Stephen Lam/ Element.ly
For the longest time, owning any tubeless tire almost meant you’d be better off owning a compressor too in order to help it seat properly. A regular floor pump/co2 sometimes worked but a compressor gives you that massive volume of compressed air with just a squeeze of the nozzle lever.
I reluctantly got a small Craftsman compressor when I converted my mountain bikes to tubeless. I found the compressor to be awfully loud as if I was mowing the lawn inside my garage. Good headphones helped but that’s just not very ideal … Can you imagine what it’d be like having a compressor in your two bedroom Brooklyn apartment with squeaky wooden floors? Yeah, not a good idea.
But the Bontrager TLR Flash Charger could very well replace the need for a compressor.
Just Flip the Switch
Built with two chambers, the TLR Flash Charger is part pump, part (manual) compressor. After flipping the unmistakable red switch, you pump air into the giant chamber. To use the stored air to seat a tubeless tire, all you’ll have to do is flip the switch and watch the air blast into the tire.
It’s that simple.
It takes about 42 strokes to get the chamber charged to the red indicator. Which, at about 160psi, was plenty enough to seat our 26, 29, and 700c tires with extra.
Pump it Up … Eventually
The other function of the pump is, well, to inflate your tires. Here I feel the TLR Flash Charger comes up a bit short. It’s not that it doesn’t fill the tires with air just like every other pump. But instead of just connecting it to the tire and pumping away, the TLR Flash Charger needs to be equalized (with the tire) first before one can start the actual inflation (Huh?).
Think of it this way, say the tire already has 100PSI and you want to check the pressure. The pump will pull about 50 psi from the tire for the equalization to happen. It’s not a big deal if the tire is flat as a pancake, but it was annoying having the need to do the extra work. So plan ahead if you’re in a time crunch.
I would also love to see a more precise pressure gauge. The numbers on the existing top-mount (thank you) gauge were easy to read. But I was left scratching my head at the fact that it only showed increments every 20psi with no markers in between (other than 30PSI). So what if I wanted to pump it to 90PSI? Doesn’t that defeat the purpose of having a built-in bleed value?
This won’t be an issue if you measure your tire pressure in bars instead of psi but come on, for $120 you would think that’s a no brainer.
So is this pump for you? That depends. The TLR Flash Charger works beautifully in setting up all sorts of tubeless. It’s as good as any compressor in that regard albeit without all the noise and need for electricity — which is great if you’re living in a place with sensitive neighbors/housemates/kids, or don’t have the room for an electric compressor.
I really liked the concept, and it would be perfect to the be only pump you should own if Trek can do away with the air equalization.
eTap-equipped MKI road at NAHBS. Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly
Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly
Frame holding jig in the finishing booth. Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly
A few of Andrew's origin frames. The steel one in the middle was the one he build while attending UBI in 2009. Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly
Andrew prefers to operate the foot switch bare-footed for better feel and control. Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly
Mise en place. Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly
Pre-weld markings. Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly
Spent welding rods. Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly
Head tube on the welding jig. Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly
A bunch of triangles made while practicing welds.. and finishes. Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly
A JET horizontal mitering bandsaw plus the must-have, multi-use gallon bucket. Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly
Rear triangle alignment jig. Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly
Custom frame oven designed by none other than Andrew himself. Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly
Frames. Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly
Welding time. Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly
Andrew seen through the yellow curtain. Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly
Andrew, with a MkI road, and Manny. Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly
A custom aluminum frame is somewhat of a unicorn these days. Stroll down the aisles at NAHBS and it’s obvious that the dominant materials for frames are titanium, carbon, and steel. And those are all wonderful materials in their own right, but I have a soft spot for aluminum.
Well, Klein’s gone now (RIP), but my hope of finding a good aluminum bike is not.
The Low Down
Sure, you could go with a big name factory option like Cannondale’s CAAD 12 and Specialized’s Allez, but if you want custom aluminum hand-crafted by an expert, Andrew Low of LOW Bicycles is your guy.
Growing up with interests in model airplanes, guitars and cars, Andrew started building roll cages for off-road vehicles while pursuing his degree in fine arts in Colorado. After moving back to his native San Francisco in 2005, he got really into bikes, and eventually got the idea to make his own frame.
Years of researching tools, saving money, and welding practice finally yielded two frames by the summer of 2010. From there, Andrew “started to take those around town where bike messengers were hanging out.” The LOW frames were an instant hit, and that was the origin of LOW Bicycles.
Today, besides offering four different track models, LOW is dipping into the resurgent aluminum road and cross market with their new MkI road and cross frames—all made in their 500 square foot shop so tidy you would think you just walked into a boutique car shop. Here’s what he has to say for himself.
Why aluminum? I like the look of oversized tubing as opposed to steel frames but I also wanted to make racing bikes and aluminum is a great material for that, dollar per dollar it’s the most effective material for racing. It’s really versatile in that you can make a really stiff bike and you can make really comfortable bike contrary to popular belief.
It’s just how you shape the tubes.
Aluminum is softer than steel and it’s not as rigid and brittle as epoxy which you find in carbon fiber.
How many frames do you make now? 12 frames every four weeks, and we stop 4 weeks out of the year. So that’s about 120 bikes a year.
Describe your bikes in five words: Beautiful, aggressive, well-designed, well-made, fast.
Why #thismachinekillscarbon? Because if you get on our bikes you won’t feel any disadvantage because you’re on an aluminum bike. I came up with that hashtag myself. The full quote is “this machine kills carbon and your preconceived notion of superiority.”
That’s what we’re setting out to do with our road bike. It started happening now in the industry where big brands are investing into high-end aluminum bikes. Specialized with their Allez which is a beautiful bike in my opinion. Some people are starting to realize that barring from buying the highest end carbon frame you can get just as good if not better performance out of aluminum. One of my bikes will ride much better than a similar-priced carbon bike. You’ll feel the difference.
Uphill or downhill: Downhill.
Favorite riding place: Riding in Marin is awesome, riding through traffic is fun. I used to love riding the city loop
One thing people don’t know about you: I am working on getting my pilot license.
Favorite music: Bands that I grown up loving: the Ramones. Jonathan Richmond, jimmy Hendrix, Lou reed, a lot of stuff from late 70s, early 80s. I play the guitar.
What are you most proud of? That I’ve able to keep this going for five years. Most businesses fail within the first year. I am proud that it took off to begin with. We have a shit ton of struggle keeping the business going. But I am just really proud that I did something people like. For me that’s awesome. It’s validating.
How long does it take to produce one frame: About 30 hours per bike.
Morning or night person: Both. I don’t sleep that much. I go to bed late and wake up early.
Finishing our Ellsworth photo shoot. Photo: Stephen Lam/ Element.ly
Thank you for your service, mannequin head #1. Photo: Stephen Lam/ Element.ly
No, this ain't no motorcycle. It's the drivetrain for the Haibike XDURO Downhill Pro. Photo: Stephen Lam/ Element.ly
eDH bike Photo: Stephen Lam/ Element.ly
Product explanation at Winter Press Camp. Photo: Stephen Lam/ Element.ly
Lazer AeroShell deployment. Photo: Stephen Lam/ Element.ly
Vintage Raleigh racing jersey by Giordana. This one's not for sale but sure looked great. Photo: Stephen Lam/ Element.ly
See those horizontal lines? That's compression fabric on the Giordana NXG bib shorts. Detail matters. Photo: Stephen Lam/ Element.ly
Yo. Photo: Stephen Lam/ Element.ly
Ridley beer steins. Works great. Photo: Stephen Lam/ Element.ly
The 2016 winter PressCamp wrapped up recently and there’s a lot to talk about. Here are my personal highlights in no particular order.
I have to admit that I once thought Haibike was a brand out of Asia (and there’s absolutely no shame of being an Asian brand, just ask Samsung). Haibike is actually German and has been around since 1995. “Hai” means shark in German and their eBikes are catered to the performance-oriented crowd. In 2016, they’re offering 55, yes, 55 eBikes from their SDURO and XDURO line equipped with either a Bosch or a Yamaha motor. “Your dealers must hate you,” an editor jokes.
Jokes aside, I’ll say this: Haibike makes beautiful ebikes. The XDURO FatSix RX fat bike might just be the ultimate do-it-all SUV on two wheels that I’ve been waiting for.
I can talk all day about all the nuisances of fabrics technology that goes behind a jersey (for example, it takes six separate pieces of fabric to construct the collar of the body-hugging NX-G jersey). But Giordana‘s EXO line stood out to me. Summer weight knickers with compression designed in conjunction with the legendary Dr. Max Testa? Sounds perfect for that typical San Francisco “summer.” We’re currently testing one and will report back soon.
Also love their sport jersey made with a blend of merino wool too. A slightly more relaxed fit, soft to the touch and clean, understated color wise. Sign me up.
Ellsworth is back. With BST Nano Carbon being its new owner and after a redesign, gone are the massive rocker links Ellsworth was known for. But founder Tony Ellsworth is excited to show us that the soul Ellsworth remains unchanged. Legacy models such as the Moment, Dare, and Epiphany are now offered in carbon fiber and boost 142×12 rear with a hex-shaped axle end for stiffness. Thankfully the bottom bracket is still english-threaded.
The Epiphany, being Ellsworth’s bestselling model, will also offer a USA made, alloyed-frame version with a shot-peened finish both inside and outside the tube. You now have three different wheel options to choose from (27.5, 27.5+ and 29). While you’re at it make sure to check out their 4-layered paint job, especially in red.
Founded in 1924, Abus sure knows a thing or two when it comes to locks. Products such as the Bordo have been a hit and now Abus is finally bringing their helmets to the states. The Hyban helmet will have a rear taillight and a storable rain cover for those unexpected showers while the magnetic Fidlock buckle clips securely into place with the quick flip of a finger. Pretty neat stuff. I am sure you can race with it too with all those vents atop.
It’s a bold, confident move when your entire line up consists of only one model and that’s exactly what former Giro D’Italia and Vuelta winner Pietro Caucchioli is doing here. Just one bike, the do it all ST. Though Divo offers only one model, it’d be hard to find two identical Divo ST given the robust Divo customization program ranging from frame color, decals, carbon finish, and custom geometry too. Now that’s custom for realz.
For Lazer, helmet integration is (literally) the name of the game: Add an AeroShell for aerodynamics and warmth; a LifeBEAM sensor to measure your heart rate like a fighter pilot, and a pair of Magneto sunglasses that’ll snap onto your helmet strap, or the back of your helmet via magnets. Don’t like it? You can always shake take it off.
We love super bikes, but honestly how many of us mere mortals can afford dropping all that money on a bicycle that costs as much as a decent motorcycle every few years? Well here comes the Ridley Noah. It’s essentially a Noah SL (same mould, actually) but with a different carbon layup and a traditional fork compared to the more expensive F-Split fork to keep the price more affordable ($3,750 for a Ultegra-equipped bike) while staying aero.
Most people like to take it easy on new equipment. Break it in. Get a feel for it. It’s a wise move, because cables stretch. Derailleurs need adjusting. Pads need to bed in. For a new groupset, that can mean a long honeymoon before getting into the rough stuff. It’d be impossible to give an honest opinion of it after just one day – unless you go big. Really big. Like Milan-Sanremo big.
It seemed like an obvious choice. Because what better test could there be for shiny new kit than a granfondo tracking one of the sport’s most iconic—and gruelling—events? Just shy of 300km with a bunch of strangers in rotten conditions and at red-line speed. Real-world testing conditions don’t get a lot more authentic than that.
So, the Friday before the race a Pinarello Dogma was shod with some box-fresh Campagnolo Record and a pair of their Shamal Ultra wheels, and then on Saturday morning it was put on a train for Milan. No time for testing. Just a quick shake in the parking lot to make sure it was all bolted on, and a cursory glance at the quick releases. They said it would be bombproof, and I took them at their word. But more on that later.
First things first: The details. Revolution 11+ is the latest edition of the storied Italian brand’s mechanical 11-speed Super Record, Record and Chorus groupsets. The skeleton brakes stay the same—no need to mess with perfection—but everywhere else they’ve rung in the changes.
The front derailleur gets a big update, with a longer lever arm that requires less movement of the shift lever to switch from little to big chain ring. No trim adjustment is needed in the big ring, but a shorter downshift with an additional extra click for the biggest sprockets all-but-eliminates chain drops. Campagnolo’s shifting has always been excellent in this regard, but every little bit helps.
At the back, you might not notice much difference but using their new “Embrace Technology”, the rear derailleur keeps the chain connected to the cassette for longer, giving better transfer of power and making shifting even better than the previous generation’s already crisp transitions. They also claim that it increases the longevity of both chain and cassette—welcome news for the bank balance.
Up front on the levers, externally there’s not a huge difference other than a slight facelift and a shift to a harder, more textured rubber on the hoods that provides excellent grip even when wet. Inside, however, it’s all new. The internals have been redesigned to work with the new derailleurs, so it isn’t possible to combine the new group with previous models.
The first thing that (envious) onlookers will notice is definitely the crank. Campagnolo have retired their much-loved five-arm spider design in favor of a new four-arm construction, which is supposed to be more aerodynamic. For the average rider, however, of much more interest is the fact that you can now change chainring setups without changing the whole crank, thanks to the new standardized bolt pattern. Switching from standard (53-39), subcompact (52-36), and compact (50-34) chainrings is now a simple job for even the least mechanically minded, providing a welcome amount of versatility—especially when paired with the new 11-29 rear cassette.
Luddites everywhere will be heartened to know that all of these changes have come to the mechanical group first, and though they’ll almost certainly migrate to the electronic EPS range sooner or later, it’s nice to know that Campagnolo are still committed to improving the analogue experience for those of us who have no interest in jumping on the battery-powered band wagon.
So how does it perform? The short answer is brilliantly. On its first outing—that nine-hour slog in wet and cold conditions from Milan to the seaside—it was a marvel, offering razor-sharp shifting under pressure and the reliable, balanced braking performance for which the Italians have long been famous. It could be a personal thing, but for this hack’s money, Campagnolo’s brake modulation is still second to none, and the hood design makes both shifting and stopping an effortless affair whatever position you’re in. Ultra-Shift also remains the only mechanical system that allows multiple downshifts—an undeniable advantage over Shimano and SRAM.
Over the course of the following months, the group continued to impress on everything from Roman cobbles and Tuscan gravel to high mountain passes in the Dolomites and the Alps. There have been a couple of casual check-ups to make sure everything is spot on, but in truth there was no need. Even on a bike that regularly gets chucked in the back of cars, hung up on trains and dragged about in a bag, this is a “set it and forget it” group. Keep it clean and you’re extremely unlikely to run into problems.
Cons? We’d be clutching at straws. Campagnolo might not be able to match its rivals in terms of sales figures, but when it comes to performance and sexiness, the Italians still do it best. At around $2,200 for Record, frugal observers could point to the price, but a good group is a long-term asset—if it’s taken care of it could outlive us all. And in a world where people pay $300 for a pair of bib shorts, splashing out on the ultimate cycling bling for your bike looks like a sensible investment, especially when it performs as well as this.
It was a rainy winter. Or maybe it was a regular winter, and the past two winters had been so dry that I wasn’t ready for it. But the upshot was the same: hastened by the permeability of the shed behind my house, my road bike developed a nasty cold.
It’s my fault, really; I didn’t take good enough care of it. I kept it clean, sure, but I took it for granted. And when the tickle in its sinus began, the shifting got little wonky. It’s January, I told myself. The shop’ll take forever. So I wiped the bike down instead, and gave it some new tires. Then it got sluggish, and I dropped the chain going down to the little ring. I’ll bring it to in this week, I told myself. It’s the right thing to do. So I wiped the bike down instead, and made sure the chain was lubed.
But then, toward the end of a Sunday spin last weekend, my rear shifter cable gave up the ghost. Just…snapped. Somewhere up inside the brake hoods where mortals dare not tread. I pulled it out of the derailleur, stuck the housing in my pocket, and rode the last five miles on a singlespeed, 82 gear inches into a bitch of a headwind, cursing my negligence with every mash.
Now, my bike is out of commission until the shop can get to it—which happens to be eight days from now. All of this is to say, don’t be like me. But that’s obvious. So it’s also to say that while you might not even be aware of the rhythms that have developed between you and your steed, they exist, and they are sacred.
It’s plain when you jump on another bike for a ride. Climbs are guessing games, descents a gamble. It’s not like my backup bike is 30 pounds of creak, either. It’s more than sufficient, and it’s taken me through centuries and up mountains. It’s just not my real bike.
To be fair, it’s not like I knew my bike was my real bike when it first came into my life. My line of work allows me to ride a lot of different things, most of which are lighter than a loaf of bread and all of which are thoroughly above my pay grade. That’s a wonderful thing, but it’s also given me an almost monastic aversion to the idea of bike permanence. So the first thing I thought when I saw my bike was “I guess bikes are murdered out now.” Specialized’s Roubaix line of Classics/endurance rides has been around for more than a decade, but 2013 was the first year it was available in stunning black on black.
It was also the first year the company had married the idea of comfort with its SL4 top-tier frame—so while my first impression was visual, my second was “smooooooth.” That wasn’t a thought, it was an actual involuntary utterance when I hit a chattery stretch of road. (And in Oakland, “chattery” is close to the best you can hope for until you get to the blacktop up in the hills.)
Everything about it was perfect, but subtle. Dura-Ace, but not digital. An 11-speed cassette that got me up just about anything, and Zertz dampers that let my legs feel the road without my…other parts feeling the road. Brakes that I trusted, on in-house wheels that were light without leaving me vulnerable to crosswinds. It didn’t jump off the line, but it didn’t need to—it got there fast, and it gave back to the road everything that I put into it. It made me stronger. Faster. And now it’s gone.
Look, yeah, I get it. It’s not gone forever. I’ll be back on it in a week. But mark my words: I’ll never take it for granted again. Q-tip was right: Joni Mitchell never lied.