Pro men at the starting grid. Photo: Stephen Lam/element.ly
Racers wait for the call-up for the Wheelers and Dealers race. Photo: Stephen Lam/element.ly
Reigning U.S. cyclocross national champion Katie Compton chatting it up with a friend Photo: Stephen Lam/element.ly
Pink gorilla sighting. Photo: Stephen Lam/element.ly
The sandpit where only the pro men managed to ride through. Photo: Stephen Lam/element.ly
Nice shirt, dude. Photo: Stephen Lam/element.ly
Kaitlin Antonneau of Cannondale p/b Cyclocrossworld.com waves to a friend during her warmup. Photo: Stephen Lam/element.ly
The lead group of the elite women navigating the course Photo: Stephen Lam/element.ly
Almost done. Photo: Stephen Lam/element.ly
Crystal Anthony reacts after racing CrossVegas Photo: Stephen Lam/element.ly
FYI. Photo: Stephen Lam/element.ly
Post-race recovery. Photo: Stephen Lam/element.ly
Getting Ready. Photo: Stephen Lam/element.ly
The crowd at CrossVegas. Photo: Stephen Lam/element.ly
(L-R) Jeremy Powers, Wout Van Aert, and Michael Vanthourenhout at the line. Photo: Stephen Lam/element.ly
Stephen Hyde getting it done in the sandpit. Photo: Stephen Lam/element.ly
Wout Van Aert cruising to a solo win. Photo: Stephen Lam/element.ly
After. Photo: Stephen Lam/element.ly
Elite women's podium. Photo: Stephen Lam/element.ly
Elite men's podium. Photo: Stephen Lam/element.ly
Racing cross at a place named Desert Breeze Soccer Complex is such an irony because it was hardly a breeze. Okay, the weather at CrossVegas this year was noticeably more tolerable but it’s a World Cup damnit. There’s nothing easy about that.
For the spectators, however, CrossVegas was a blast. Quality racing, great atmosphere, and plenty of hospitality. It’s also a much-needed break from listening to and giving product pitches at InterBike. Two highlights:
Sophie De Boer out sprinted Katie Compton and Katerina Nash on the finishing straight for the win while Nash worked her way to claim second after a crash in the sandpit. Impressive.
The sandpit got everyone talking about whether anyone would be able to ride through it. The announcers joked it was “the finest sand imported from Tahiti”. The elite men did it like hot knife through butter. Then there was the Wout van Aert’s solo win that was so thrilling that he made it look easy even though it was obvious the warm, dry heat affected just about everyone, including the supposedly ice-cold beers. Still, the turnout and the atmosphere was pretty cool. Can’t wait to go back next year.
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.
Humility. That was the taste in my mouth as my seat whacked me in the back of the head for the second time that morning. I lay sprawled out in Whistler’s world-famous dirt, and it was only the first day of practice for the Whistler round of the Enduro World Series. Clearly, I was in way over my head.
I’d come to race this round of the EWS for a couple reasons. First, last year’s edition had become infamous. Dubbed “Crankzilla,” it had included massive amounts of climbing and even more steep descending on raw British Columbia trails. It was a fairly epic achievement to even make all your stage start times and not be disqualified. Enduro racers who lean to the downhill side of the spectrum bemoaned all the climbing, while those who favored the cross-country side spoke fearfully of the descents. Anything feared by everyone, had to be interesting … right?
Second, racing any round of the EWS is a unique experience in the sporting world. It’s one of the only top-level, professional sporting events that an amateur can sign up for — without any qualifications — and race on the same course, on the same day as the pros competing for the big money. You can’t race in the Tour de France and rub elbows with Chris Froome, but I practiced with — and got passed repeatedly by — top pros like Fabien Barel, Tracy Moseley, Dan Atherton and Josh Carlson.
I knew before I even arrived in Whistler that I was going to be out of my element. I started mountain biking, and racing, at age 13, but quickly showed that my main quality as a rider was an ability to suffer — not any real technical skill.
My first real trail ride was punctuated by a dozen crashes. I was lured to the dark side, road racing, through my high school years — where bike handling was less prized than the ability to put the screws to the pack on a long climb. Since then, I’ve spent most of my quality time riding the dirt, and my technical skills have improved through sheer force of will and pure volume.
I can hang with most anyone on any trail. I regularly place top ten in local expert class cross-country races, mid pack in enduros, and top 20 in the annual trail rider’s testpiece — the Downieville Classic All Mountain category (aka, the “All Mountain World Championships”). I was confident I could hang at Whistler, but knew it would be difficult. My goal was to finish, hopefully respectably.
“Hey Bud” is the name of the trail used for Stage 1 and served as my Whistler wake-up call. Just outside the famed bike park, the trail plunges down steep sections of loam cross-hatched with slippery roots. Raw, beautiful, and terrifying for this guy who’s spent his riding career careening at speed over dust and rocks. Only 1.7km long, it felt like an eternity of maxed-out heart rate without even turning the pedals. I finished the trail with my confidence shaken.
Stage 2 crumbled it to bits.
The top half was the famous “Top of the World” trail and I felt at home on the open, rocky terrain. The second half left the park and entered a tight woods section called Khyber. While not as sustained as “Hey Bud” it was substantially longer and had sections that were essentially steep chutes with roots and rocks that were seemingly designed to pitch you over the bars — quickly becoming a regular occurrence for me.
I returned to my tent after practicing four out of the five stages a shell of a rider. Race organizers had eliminated much of the climbing in favor of riding the lift for some of the transitions, so there would be no Crankzilla 2.0. I was sore and beatdown from 12,000 feet of descending and crashing repeatedly on the steepest, sketchiest terrain I’d ever ridden.
More importantly, my confidence was shaken, a key component in riding competently and quickly downhill on technical terrain. I’d overlooked regional terrain differences and underestimated the pure difficulty of the riding in Whistler. I wondered whether I should even start the race. I’ll turn 40 next year, and my riding mantra has definitely evolved from, “Go fast, take chances” to “Be smooth, be safe — you have to go to work tomorrow.” I was further hampered by my bike choice, a 135mm travel 29er trail bike. Fine for most anything in California, but like bringing a nail file to a gun fight in Whistler.
Another half-day of practicing on the remaining stages didn’t improve my mindset much and a steady drizzle began to fall. I thought about buying new tires. I thought about renting a much bigger bike. I thought that the rain would be a perfect excuse to bail on the race. I sat down in the base Village area and stared up at the cloud-shrouded peaks. Where’s the line between challenging yourself and just being stupid? I realized I wouldn’t really know until later, and there’s no way I could sit here and watch the race go on without me.
I rolled off the start ramp the next morning just as the last drops fell after a night of steady rain. I zoned out during the only long climb of the day up to Stage 1, concentrating on only the next pedal stroke — blocking out negative thoughts.
There was a loose, jovial atmosphere as my fellow amateurs queued up for their start time. I breathed easier. As soon as the timing beeps started, I pushed off and into the trail. It wasn’t as muddy as I’d feared, the loam had held up well in the rain, but the roots were unreal slippery — like strips of black ice in the dark woods. I was passed multiple times by faster riders, shaking my confidence but also relieving my competitive instinct. It was just me against the trail. I drug a foot down a few sections and crashed embarrassingly on a small, greasy uphill before crossing the line, relieved to be in one piece.
I dropped my chain twice on the top of Stage 2, erasing any advantage the terrain held for me and presaging the onset of more serious mechanical problems. The second half on Khyber was straight out of my nightmares. The rain had turned the chutes into muddy slip and slides studded with roots and rocks. I crashed hard going into one and limped on foot down the rest of the chute before slamming hard onto my tailbone. I couldn’t even walk this shit. I began to worry I would be DQ’d for exceeding the maximum time limit for the stage.
Stage 3 went relatively smoothly, with an over the bars crash off a rock face feeling almost natural at this point. I took cruel comfort in watching another racer crash hard right at the finish line of the stage. I wasn’t the only one. Even local guys contesting for the win described wipeouts and ugly, survival riding.
I felt much better going into Stage 4, with most of the technical difficulties behind me, but started dropping my chain with greater regularity as my speed increased. I spent minutes mid-stage untangling a grotesque mess of chain and derailleur. Most of the final Stage 5 was spent in way too low of a gear to even pedal, a cruel joke on the most pedally stage of the day, in an effort to keep my chain on. Then my derailleur cable broke and I was stuck mashing my largest gear into the final bermed twists and turns of the bike park before pathetically airing into the finishing chute, with a solid crowd amassed to watch the more talented pros finish later.
I breathed a sigh of relief as I hugged my wife and daughter. I was in one piece and was even an official finisher, making all the time cutoffs. Somehow, I’d even managed to beat one rider, barely dodging DFL designation. The course had stripped me down to a pure rider — riding to survive. BC had ripped me out of my comfort zone and forced me to reevaluate myself as a mountain biker.
As I pointed the car south the next morning and back towards more familiar trails, two voices competed for attention in my mind. “You survived! Count yourself lucky and get back to the XC riding you know you’re good at.” But … just as loudly, “You know, with a bigger bike and focused practice on riding steeper, more technical terrain, you could actually do this without embarrassing yourself.” We’ll see which one wins out.
The day after I picked up the Ridley Noah SL, the weather forecast was truly shocking for the middle of May; mid thirties, rain and high wind. Despite this, I convinced myself to harden the fuck up, and headed out. Twenty minutes later, snow was driving horizontally and visibility was about fifty yards, the Belgian bike had summoned spring classic weather to the desert southwest. After waiting out the worst of it in a café, I headed out onto the wet windy road and started my dirty, lustful five-week love affair with the Noah SL.
Slotting in between Ridley’s Lighter Helium series and the fully aero Noah Fast option, the Noah SL incorporates a host of aero features into a bike suited for all-around racing and hard, fast riding.
It incorporates all the modern go fast aero features you would expect on a pro team ride, and Ridley takes things a step further with aero technology they claim shaves an additional 7% of wind resistance from the frame. Dubbed F-Surface, Ridley grooves the smooth surface of the downtube and seatpost to more efficiently channel air, like dimples on a golf ball. They also split the fork, directing air away from the turbulent front wheel.
While this 7% claim is impossible to verify without a wind tunnel, a freshly shorn man in a skin suite and a gaggle of Flemish engineers, the real world riding is convincing. Compared to a non-aero bike, the Noah SL is simply faster at speed. Jumping out around a group into the wind or the first few seconds of a fast pull are noticeably less painful. Let the road tilt down even a little, and its hard not to smile. Long hard exertions in the drops are more satisfaction than suffering. This bike makes you want to go fast.
The overall ride of the SL is decidedly race. My 165 lbs creates little or no flex thanks to the chunky tubes and BB junction. Out of the saddle efforts are rewarded with a satisfying pop of acceleration, this bike loves to be hammered. Of course, this is no gravel grinder and all that stiffness comes at a price. Rough road sections are keenly felt, but surprisingly, small bumps are nicely absorbed by the Noah as long as they don’t come in rapid succession. With clearance for 25mm tires, comfort can be increased if that’s your thing. There is a slight weight penalty for all that stiff sleekness, but its still just a nudge over UCI limits.
For an aggressive bike, the handling is predicable and confident. My second date with the Ridley was a 106 mile mixed road sufferfest. There was a long dirt road mountain climb, a 40 mph descent on twisty drenched asphalt, big wind, miles and miles of fast dirt road descending and a high-speed Hail-Mary bunny-hop over a very broken cattle guard. It felt like we had known each other for years.
If you do your best work on the steeps or spend more at the chiropractor than the bike shop, this is likely not the bike for you. If you like it at the pointy end of the group and enjoy your time working in the drops, you should take a long, hard, shameless look at the Noah SL.
Laurens ten Dam wasn’t voted most popular in his high school yearbook.
“I was already racing my bike by 17,” he says. “Which was considered pretty weird in comparison to drinking beer and smoking pot. But then maybe you were a little bit the outlaw because you were really into sports.”
Ten Dam, who now rides for pro tour team LottoNL-Jumbo, is no longer the outlaw and he certainly does not lack for popularity. He has over 75,000 followers on the popular athlete site Strava and those same followers gave his nine mile ride to the grocery store last week 1660 kudos.
“I just try to be myself,” he says. “I don’t try to make up something to be popular.”
We caught up with Ten Dam outside the world headquarters of Strava. He was making a quick appearance between a three-week training camp in Tahoe—part of his Tour de France prep—and his flight back home. While he was in Northern California he made sure to secure the Donner Pass KOM on Strava to add to his virtual trophy shelf.
“Getting those KOMs is like any other mountain top finish,” says Ten Dam. “I had to just sit down.”
He sipped on his macchiato (“This is good coffee.”) and when we asked if he would like some fruit or something else to eat, he declined. He is watching his weight (or lack there of).
During our brief time together, we tried to get the answer to the questions the main stream media are afraid to ask.
What’s your spirit animal: They call me Wolfman. He says he got this nickname a few years ago when he showed up at the tour with a full beard and long, long hair. “Like an animal.”
Toilet paper, over or under: Over
Stemware up or down: I just had to put it down while I was in Tahoe, but at home, up.
Favorite color: Red, um no Yellow.
Three friends using three words to describe you: My best friends would say I am a pitbull, never giving up. I’m honest. And I’m a pain in the ass. I can trigger them. Always moaning and bitching. Always bitching.
Boxers or briefs: What’s a brief? Oh. Boxers.
Favorite food: BBQ Steak
Least favorite: Sugary foods. I like them, but I don’t eat them.
Favorite race: Tour de France
Least favorite: I love racing. I’ve even done the kermesses in Belgium. Actually you can put me in any race.
Favorite non-bicycling activity: enjoying a nice Belgian beer.
You seem to be very popular with the dudes, but not so popular with the ladies: I don’t know maybe they see the ring on my finger and I’ve been with my wife since I was very young, so I don’t know. You will have to ask them.
Longterm plan: I want to ride my last professional year with an American domestic team. Maybe live in Santa Cruz, ride four hours, go the beach and bbq some steaks.