How Park Tool Keeps the Bike World Running, One Blue Handle at a Time

Park Tool CEO Eric Hawkins. Photo: David Pierini/Element.ly
Park Tool CEO Eric Hawkins. Photo: David Pierini/Element.ly

Pegboards full of blue-handled tools—nipple drivers, caliper wrenches and the like—cover nearly every inch of wall, and the floor is a kind of obstacle course of repair and truing stands.

It is the showroom and final stop on the tour of Park Tool’s 85,000-square-foot facility in Oakdale, MN and when CEO Eric Hawkins leans against it’s newest repair stand with a hydraulic lift, this seems to be where the tour will end.

But Hawkins likes to end the tour where the story of Park Tool actually begins. He walks over to an odd sculptural piece on caster wheels. It is made with the base of a dining room table, a shell casing filled with cement, a ’37 Ford truck axel and a broken hockey stick.

Hawkins never tires of showing his father’s creation, the very first bicycle repair stand.

The first repair stand made by Park Tool founders Howard Hawkins and Art Engstrom. It consisted of a dining room table base on caster wheels, a shell casing filled with cement, a truck axel and a broken hockey stick. Photo: David Pierini/Element.ly
The first repair stand made by Park Tools founders Howard Hawkins and Art Engstrom. It consisted of a dining room table base on caster wheels, a shell casing filled with cement, a truck axel and a broken hockey stick. Photo: David Pierini/Element.ly

Two Sore Backs

Bicycles, whether in the peloton of the Tour de France or meandering along some state park bike path, are likely on the move because of Park Tool. Bike mechanics in more than 70 countries grab the tools to change break pads, spoke wheels, and adjust front and rear derailleurs.

That Park Tool rose up from a local fix-it shop in the Hazel Park neighborhood of St. Paul to having a 90 percent share of the global market for bicycle maintenance tools is a great American business success story.

“With us,” Hawkins says, “we have been in the right place at the right time with the right thing.”

The story, however, did not start with ambition. It began with two sore backs.

Howard Hawkins repairing a bike on the first production stand he and Art Engstrom made for Schwinn. (Courtesy of Park Tool)
Howard Hawkins repairing a bike on the first production stand he and Art Engstrom made for Schwinn. Photo: Courtesy of Park Tool

Howard Hawkins had just graduated from a technical college, where he learned welding and blacksmithing, when he bought a repair shop in 1956 with a friend, Art Engstrom. America was in the middle of a post-war housing boom and with it came all sorts of things to repair, like radios, televisions, and lawnmowers. Ice skates were in constant need of sharpening during the long Minnesota winters.

The housing boom also meant growing families with children riding bikes. From their shop, Hawkins and Engstrom sold and repaired Schwinn bicycles. The two were growing tired of stooping over bicycles on the ground when they came up with the idea for a contraption that could hold a bike off the ground and rotate 360 degrees.

The Prototype

Even today, the first stand is something to behold. The odd mix of items are smartly arranged to provide a solid, anchored weight in the base, along with a strength to support and balance a bike. Howard Hawkins laid down sure and economical beads in his welds and his first stand still stands ready for any bike triage.

Engstrom and Howard Hawkins repaired bikes with it for a few years before showing it to Schwinn in 1963. At Schwinn’s direction, the two designed a commercial stand that soon took its place wherever Schwinn bikes were repaired.

“He didn’t know anything about bikes, but he learned by putting his hands on things,” the younger Hawkins said of his father. “To him, everything was about common sense.”

Schwinn Stingrays in the office of Park Tool, which originated out of the back room of a Schwinn dealership. Photo: David Pierini/Element.ly
Schwinn Stingrays in the office of Park Tool, which originated out of the back room of a Schwinn dealership. Photo: David Pierini/Element.ly

That Midwest ingenuity began to come up against new challenges in the late 1960s, when the shifting and breaking mechanisms in bikes became more complex. Repairs were difficult because the tools for the new components did not exist.

The Tools

Engstrom and Howard Hawkins began making the tools: wrenches, frame alignment gauges, bracket and cable tools. The tools in the early years were built from scratch with whatever materials were left over in their shop.

Meanwhile, the two were among the nation’s top Schwinn dealers and at one point operated out of three different locations. The demands for tools became so great the two sold the shops in 1981.

Park Tool. Photo: David Pierini/Element.ly
Photo: David Pierini/Element.ly

As the tool line expanded, Park Tool have out-grown a couple of other facilities. They make close to 400 different kinds of tools for bikes and hold more than two dozen patents.

Park Tool tracks the cycling industry and seems to have a tool every time something new is released. Because of its standing, companies often share the specs on new components so that Park Tool can make tools to be available at the time of the item’s release. It has enjoyed spikes in growth thanks to mountain biking, BMX and American success in international cycling.

The company also recognized that cyclists began to learn how to take care of their bikes and has a robust line of consumer products, from folding allen wrench sets to tire patch kits.The Park Tool website is also a repository for informational articles and video tutorials.

Tools get shipped to more than 70 countries. (David Pierini)

Tools get shipped to more than 70 countries. Photo: David Pierini/Element.ly

Bottom bracket tools (David Pierini)

Bottom bracket tools. Photo: David Pierini/Element.ly

Chain whips ready for shipment. (David Pierini)

Chain whips ready for shipment. Photo: David Pierini/Element.ly

Park_tool009

Some of the employees commute to work by bike and factory floor fans are a good way to dry off clip shoes on a rainy day. Photo: David Pierini/Element.ly

Some of the tools past and present in the Park Tool showroom. (David Pierini)

Some of the tools past and present in the Park Tool showroom. Photo: David Pierini/Element.ly

“I think its important for us to take the mystery out of the bike,” Eric Hawkins said. “If you can show someone it’s easy to fix a flat tire, they’re likely to go for a ride. For a lot of people, being able to work on the bike is an ultimate goal. We are happy to give them that education.”

The Heir

Eric Hawkins grew up in his father’s bike shops and learned the business just from watching. He went off to college and came back to work for Park Tool for a while until he could figure out what he wanted to do with his life.

The younger Hawkins started making suggestions from what he learned from college marketing classes. He suggested having a presence at trade shows and other cycling events and his father agreed.

An employee affixes the Park Tool name to a product. Photo: David Pierini/Element.ly
An employee affixes the Park Tool name to a product. Photo: David Pierini/Element.ly

It was Eric Hawkins idea to patent the Park Tool shade of blue, Pantone 2935, which in cycling has become as recognizable as the green of the John Deere tractor.

“What better childhood than to hang out in a bike shop,” he said. “I learned a lot about assembling bikes and without knowing it, common sense. My dad did have any great ambitions, he was content making a living with the bike shops, but to his credit, he let me try some things.”

Park Tool CEO Eric Hawkins. Photo: David Pierini/Element.ly
Photo: David Pierini/Element.ly

Even after both Engstrom and the elder Hawkins retired, Howard popped into the factory a couple of times a week just to check on things. He even helped assemble display boards for the industry’s two biggest events, Interbike and Eurobike.

Hawkins and Engstrom were able to revel in the company’s 50 anniversary celebration in 2013. This past January, Howard Hawkins died in Arizona from a heart attack. He was 82.

Eric Hawkins has done much to modernize the company, but is a careful steward of his father’s legacy. There are pictures and newspaper clipping throughout the Park Tool office and one of every color and model of Schwinn Stingray ever made is lined up along an office, much like it looked in the old Hazel Park shop.

One way Eric Hawkins enjoys honoring his father is with a joke he always told people when asked how many people work for him. When I asked Eric how many work at Park Tool (between 50 and 60), he repeated his father’s line, “About half.”

Part of Park Tool's 85,000 square-foot facility near St. Paul, MN. Photo: David Pierini/Element.ly
Part of Park Tool’s 85,000 square-foot facility near St. Paul, MN. Photo: David Pierini/Element.ly

Capo’s Corsa SL Kit Brings the Joy of Compression

Capo Kit

I’ve been thinking about compression lately. As summer fades into shoulder season, the word connotes loss—shorter days, earlier sunsets, busier schedules, less time to ride. But on the road with your kit, it’s a must. Compression means more than support, more than forestalling fatigue; without it, my legs feel slack. My arms feel noodly. Lightweight is fine, but I still need the kit to fit. And “club” is not a fit. (Not to get all Velominati on you, but I mean, c’mon.) Somehow, Capo’s Corsa SL kit manages to walk that tightrope perfectly.

My first ride wearing it was a scorcher. It clocked in right around 50 miles, but it was a hot, mid-August afternoon in the shadeless hills of the East Bay. Three Bears, Pig Farm, up Reliez Valley. And my abiding thought the entire time was why are these bibs so comfortable? That’s not a usual thought when it comes to cycling apparel. Generally speaking, if you’re thinking about your clothes while you’re riding, something is wrong. The goal, I’d always thought, was to forget you were wearing kit at all. But this was better: I knew it was there, it just felt good. The wide leg bands stayed put like they were painted on, but without a hint of chafing. The shoulder straps were secure despite being gossamer thin.

Capo Kit

Up top, the zipper moved when I wanted it to, but didn’t when I didn’t. I’m generally partial to a certain scorpion-accented company, but its zippers have always left something to be desired; not these. Heat management became like a game to distract me on climbs. Getting pitchy, let’s take it down a few inches. Almost there. Over the top, time to cinch it up for the long tuck. Even the sleeves played their part—long without being too long, and compressing without squeezing. (Granted, I’m in possession of two of the skinniest arms since Chris Froome, and as such fall squarely into Capo’s decidedly Euro fit parameters; your mileage may vary.) There was a bit of room in the midriff—less than I’d expect from what the company terms “a more relaxed fit,” but when the next step up is basically skinsuit, one brand’s “relaxed” is another brand’s “race.”

Add in a pair of socks with blue accents to complement the stark black/white motif of the kit, and the triptych became my go-to over the next six weeks: Everything from a 20-mile pre-work spin to a solo 90 on the weekend, in temperatures from the high 50s to the low 90s (the former with an early-morning vest, the latter with a base layer that looks like fishnet stockings). There wasn’t a ride I could imagine that wasn’t right for the Corsa SL. It might be smack in the middle of the company’s product range, but there’s nothing “value” about the fit, form, or function. And now, even as I can tell those warm sunny days are numbered and the rest of my life compresses, I’m pulling out the armwarmers to get just one more ride with it before I move on to something less summery.


Why I Got Back to Mountain Biking, and How You Can Too

Specialize Stumpjumper
Photo: Bradley Hughes/Element.ly

I have been what the community calls a “Roadie” since 2001. That was the summer the entire country watched Lance Armstrong win the Tour de France for the 3rd time. I was in awe. Cycling was just beginning to have it’s time in the sun in the U.S. I traded my Rockhopper for an entry-level road bike and never looked back. Boy what a mistake that was—I was too young, no one had taught me the n+1 equation yet.

I’m older (and wiser?) now, and have learned that balance is important. Road bikes on Saturday, dirt church on Sunday. In the spring of 2012 I got my grubby hands on a sweet new squishy bike through the fine folks at Scott. I rode that piece of plastic as much as possible for the two years I had it. Raced it into the dirt. Tore it apart in the most abusive ways imaginable (I was relearning how to mountain bike, which can get a little messy). I got really comfortable on trails again. I cursed that younger version of myself, for what seemed like stripping away years of adventure and thrill seeking in the woods.

I enjoyed that bike every day up to the one where it was stolen from my garage. Greedy bastards. They stole my adrenaline fix.

Bikes are expensive, and I was low on cash, so I simply resorted to riding road bikes again to fulfill my need for speed. I won’t go into how burnt out I got riding roads over the last couple years, but if you’ve biked a fair amount, you can probably imagine. I unknowingly missed the woods. I wanted to stay in bed and sleep rather than go out for morning rides with my club. It was time to get back on the trails again, and so here I am doing just that.

Specialized Stumpjumper
Photo: Bradley Hughes/Element.ly

Here’s a few things I’ve learned going through this process.

The fitness benefits are superior.

I struggled for a long time to gain back the level of fitness I had that summer. I wondered why I was so fucking slow. Where had that effortless zip gone? I had been riding road bikes a lot, putting in hours, trying to stay fit. But I was still feeling sluggish, heavy, slow.

Then it occurred to me that it was because I wasn’t riding trails. The ups and downs—the intervals—that’s what was missing. Mountain biking gave me that adventure I’d always been looking for and a much more intense workout—a combination that was more powerful than anything I had found road riding. I enjoyed the intensity, the thrill of the downhills we’re great, but I was just as into the work put in to get up there in the first place.

When I was riding dirt, my brain shut off and my body went to work. It was fun, and I rode as much as I possibly could. All these things allowed me to reach a peak level of fitness—without ever checking my heart rate or chasing a KOM.

Buy a fun bike.

It’s important that you kickstart your way back into the sport. Test ride a lot of awesome and ridiculously expensive bicycles. Make it a fun project—over do it. This will give you a sense for what each bike does well and how each of them is suited to your interests. Then you’ll be able to make a good decision. Make sure you take the time to find what’s right for you in your price range.

Lately, I’ve been riding the 2014 Specialized Stumpjumper FSR Expert. This is the Evo model, which in my opinion has far too much travel for a trail category bike. Unless you are Gee Atherton, you have no business floating on 150mm or more of travel. You’ll just get lazy.

Having a bike that will roll over just about anything is fun, but it doesn’t allow you to practice a ton of technical skill. I ended up locking out the suspension often. I didn’t need all that travel—even on the more technical trails. And I swapped the stem for something more angled which brought my riding position and center of gravity down a bit. It’s not the most elegant climbing bike, but a little customization helped me climb better.

Overall, this bike is a blast. It’s not the right bike for me, but I believe downgrading the suspension on a standard Stumpy model would do the trick just nicely. And that bike is a crowd pleaser.

The idea here is to find something that will allow you to fall back into the sport easily without presenting too many technical or mechanical challenges. Get the right bike for you, so you can focus on the ride.

Roadies are boring.

Ok I can say this, because essentially I am one. And when I say “Roadies” I mean it in the true classical sense. You know that guy, you’ve seen him. If you are out there seeking course records or some magic number on your watt-o-meter, you are seeking the wrong thing.

Next time you are out on your bike (no matter road, cx, mtb), take a different turn. Shit, take the wrong turn. Go somewhere you’ve never been before. Ride a fire road or hike-a-bike to some new and unridden place. Seek something more than getting in your workout before you have to go sit in your cubical for the rest of the day.

I think this is the most important lesson I’ve learned along the way. I got in a rut so to speak, because I lost track of why I was out there in the first place. If you incorporate adventure and fun in your rides, they will always be rewarding.

Specialized Stumpjumper
Photo: Bradley Hughes/Element.ly

Campagnolo’s Latest Groupset Is a Mechanical Wonder

Campagnolo Revolution 11+ groupset
Photo: Jim Merithew/Element.ly

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.

Campagnolo Revolution 11+ groupset
Photo: Jim Merithew/Element.ly

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.

Campagnolo Revolution 11+ groupset
Photo: Jim Merithew/Element.ly

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.

Campagnolo Revolution 11+ groupset
Photo: Jim Merithew/Element.ly

Interbike Survivor:
Highlights From the Three Day Bike-Geek Bash

Interbike Outdoor Demo

For the VIPs of Outdoor Demo. Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly

Interbike Outdoor Demo

Didn't expect Outdoor Demo to be overcast with clouds and rain but it sure made for a nice pretty photo. Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly

Interbike: Speedplay

Road? Aero road? Light action? Mountain? Platform? Speedplay has got you covered. Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly

Interbike: SRAM RED eTap wireless drivetrain

Everybody loves the new SRAM RED eTap wireless drivetrain. Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly

Interbike: Hans Rey (L) shakes hands with Vittorio Brumotti after Brumotti's trials show

Hans Rey (L) shakes hands with Vittorio Brumotti after Brumotti's trials show (on a road bike) at the Crank Brothers booth. Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly

Interbike: Camelbak Palos 4LR

Camelbak Palos 4LR pulling double duty as a water gun holster. Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly

Interbike: Camelbak's Outdoor Demo pool party.

Camelbak's Outdoor Demo pool party. Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly

Interbike Outdoor Demo

There's a pump track at Outdoor Demo if you want to jump around ... Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly

Interbike

... Or you can take the shuttle to shred. Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly

Interbike: Alchemy Arktos

Alchemy Arktos: More than happy to take one home. It's beautiful. Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly

Interbike: Tufmed

Tufmed's athlete body care products. Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly

Interbike: Torelli lugs

Lugs! Who doesn't love lugs?! From the Torelli booth. Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly

Interbike: Wahoo's new ELEMNT computer

Wahoo's new ELEMNT computer: A new entry to the bike computer segment. Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly

Interbike: Maya helmet from Keli Protectives

Flexible and adjustable visor on the Maya helmet from Keli Protectives. Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly

Interbike: CYCLIQ Fly 6 taillight with integrated camera

The CYCLIQ Fly 6 taillight with integrated camera ... was the bike cut in half for this demo rig? Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly

Interbike

Going to Interbike is a fun job but it's still a job. Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly

Interbike

Really digging that comic jersey/bib combo. Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly

Interbike

Riding for a cause. Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly

Interbike: Thule's Chariot CX

Thule's Chariot CX: You can put wheels and skis on it AND it comes with disc brakes for all you outdoor lovers with a little one. Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly

Interbike

I think he was selling fog-resistant sunglasses. Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly

Elemently_IB15

The Element.ly crew Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly

I survived my first Interbike.

If you’re a bike nerd, Interbike, or IB for short, is one heck of a bike show. New gear is displayed, deals are made, swag is given (and taken). Plus, free beer. I love bikes and gear just like many of you but it’s easy to get overwhelmed by a three-day bike show. Now that the dust has settled, here is my recap in bullet points.

E-Bikes

Whether you like it or not, e-bikes are going to be around for a while. Plenty of e-bike exhibitors, an indoor test track, plus they somehow work their way into just about every conversation.

Socks

Just a small glimpse of the hundreds of different kinds of socks on the Interbike floor. These are from the SockGuy. Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly
Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly

Oh so many different colors. I am pretty sure I could wear a different pair a day for a year straight if I was given a pair of everything.

Abbey Tools

Abbey tools are totally drool-worthy. It was a small booth off to the side but I actually want every single one of the tools shown. Great guys to chat with too!

Ortlieb bag

Ortlieb's Urban day pack: It doesn't have a gazillion pockets with fancy theatrical names on them but what you get is a minimalist yet highly functional design for your daily commute. Plus, it's made in Germany. Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly
Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly

Roll-top messenger backpacks have been around for a while but what I dig about Ortlieb’s latest offering is its clean lines and simplicity. No more gazillion pockets. It’s waterproof too. (Check out their current bags here.)

Convertible mountain bike helmets

The latest rage for the mountain bike world. Is today a full face or a regular helmet day? Bell, Uvex, and Lazer have got you covered. So enduro, brah.

Vittoria Corsa Speed tubeless

Vittoria's new G+ Isotech tire compound with graphene Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly
Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly

The G+Isotech Graphene tire compound is said to be faster, grippier and more resistant to wear. The other cool story is the fact that Vittoria has figured out cotton casing for tubeless road tires. Yes, it looks classy badass but perhaps it’ll be one step closer to bringing the tubular “feel” to tubeless. Can’t wait to test them.

Sir Bradley Wiggin’s hour record Pinarello

Sir Bradley Wiggin's hour-record Pinarello Bolide HR. Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly
Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly

Absolutely gorgeous.

Strong Lanyard Game

Manual For Speed Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly
Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly

Manual For Speed has the best decorated convention lanyard.

Questionable Products

Not going to name names, but it’s a hard sales pitch when your electrolyte supplement is essentially rebadged sea water (no lie, I read the label).

Sapim CX-Carbon spokes

CX-Carbon spoke from Sapim. Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly
Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly

Time will tell whether carbon spokes are here to stay. Priced at about $16 for a 3 gram Sapim CX-Carbon spoke, it’s probably the most expensive way to shed grams off your bike and the quickest way to lighten up your wallet ’cause who buys a single spoke anyway. But my, they are pretty and cool.

Schindlehauer Ludwig

A Schindlehauer Ludwig chillin' against the wall. Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly
Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly

Totally stumbled upon one that was leaning against a wall on the last day. Maybe it’s the Brooks saddle, maybe it’s the seattube cutout. Not only did it look stylish but it was also packed with plenty of tech like a belt drive and your choice of an 8 or 11 speed shimano Alfine hub. Slick.


Hincapie Mercury Kit Brings the Heat, Keeps You Cool

Hincapie Mercury kit
Photo: Jim Merithew/Element.ly

There’s a short way to describe Hincapie Sportswear‘s Mercury range: Not for the faint of heart. It’s lightweight, close-fitting, features plenty of mesh areas … and it’s white. This is a kit for your top form, when you’ve shed the winter weight, dialed in the tan, and can afford to draw some attention.

It’s a well-designed kit with plenty of tech in it aimed at riders who are focused on performance. There’s ample amounts of wicking, UVA/UVB protection, heat reflecting materials, and ventilation so it’s perfect if you want to go hard under summer sun.

This particular hack gave the Mercury bibs and jersey a few spins during a week climbing the Italian Dolomites, and it functioned perfectly. The chamois was comfortable all day, the tight-fitting extremities stayed in place, and it stayed cool—even on some exposed climbs where the gradient hit double figures. And the icing on the cake? It received a few begrudging compliments from the bunch.

Check it out the Hincapie Mercury kit at Competitive Cyclist.


Opening for the Pros at the Cyclocross World Cup

Cyclocross World Cup, CrossVegas
Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly

The start chute falls completely silent. None of us are friends anymore. The referee’s whistle cues my entry into the most painful 45 minutes I have felt since last season. One hundred of us are grinding away, already turned up “to eleven.” Not even 15 seconds pass and I hear front wheel spokes grinding on a rear derailleur two bikes to my right. Then swearing. Two guys I wont have to worry about again. I adopt the Reagan-era defense mantra of “Trust, but verify.” One hundred of us rolled the start line and I only know two other racers. Some guys have skills, some just big motors. I am hoping that clean technique plays well. I need all the help I can get.

This is CrossVegas, the USA Cycling version. One hundred Category 1,2, and 3 racers have paid to race on a course that will later host a World Cup battle of an international peloton of professional cyclocross racers. For me, however, this is simply about seeing how I measure up to my peers. As a middling Cat3 CX racer, I do not expect to blow anybody’s doors off.

The “real cyclocross” debate will never end. Some people think there has to be mud, or tree roots, or deep beach sand, or epic rain. My experience has taught me there is “fast” ‘cross and there is “technical” ‘cross. But it is never “easy.” After my first warmup lap on this year’s CrossVegas course, all I could think of was Marty McFly. “This is heavy, Doc.”

Thick, ripe, wheel-grabbingly lush Bermuda grass covered the entire 3.4km course, save the two plywood flyovers and five barrier/stairs sections. In other words, no rest for the eyes-blown-out-of-their-skulls weary. The diabolical course designer sent us up and down the ramps of this desert retention basin park walls more times than I can remember. But with each racer who pulled off the course ahead of me, crying “Uncle!!,” I mustered the motivation to pedal on. “I beat that guy.”

Cyclocross World Cup, CrossVegas
The author keeping his eye on the prize. Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly

With two excruciating laps down and two to go, the grenades start blowing. Fit, skinny, carbon-bike-riding young-uns start moving backwards. I relish every second. A guy wearing a hydration-bladder base-layer is complaining about the heat. At 85 degrees Fahrenheit, this is the coldest ride I have made in months. But I am dying a slow death, as well. Very shortly into Lap One, my tongue took the form of a wood rasp rubbing on the 100-grit sandpaper of my soft pallate, and a dry hack now interrupts my gasping. This is so fun. I paid money to do this.

With the ringing of the last Lap, the grudge match ensues between the five of us fighting for 50th place. Yes, 50th. I have no idea who these guys are, but the gradual sifting of racers through the grid has matched us as equals today.

I hear the announcer call the Finish Sprint as we are still just half-way through the course. Almost there. Kill me now. One guy jumps, I try to follow, and three fall off. Bury it. Stay clean through the stairs and maintain. Just maintain. I can hear the huffing behind me through the last few chicanes, but I keep my wheels gripping and grind on. I cross the line head slung down, an anonymous also-ran.

The announcers are talking about the ex-ProTour roadie who placed second and the upcoming Wheelers and Dealers race. I am nobody. Just a guy from Arizona who likes to race cyclocross. All I wanted to do was finish “under par.” I started 69th of 100 and finished 51st.

What does it all mean? Regular Joes can’t play a pickup game at the Staples Center ahead of a Laker game. Nobody plays two-hand-touch on the field in Foxborough before the Patriots. But I can race cyclocross before the best racers in the world rip up the course and remind me that I am just a regular guy with a day job. Why? Because it is there.

Cyclocross World Cup, CrossVegas
Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly

CrossVegas brings first cyclocross World Cup to America

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Always appreciate late starts. Better yet, super late afternoon starts.

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Reigning US Cyclocross Champ Katie Compton (R) chatting it up before the Wheelers and Dealers race.

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What's not to love when there's a shark racing on a bicycle and a Jack Daniel's handoff?

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RV awning makes a good place to stash the stationary roller.

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The BKCP-Crendon boys relax by the CrossVegas cooler

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Plenty of wheels for the Telnet-Fidnea cycling team

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Custom paint job and custom shoes for the legendary Sven Nys. Oh and check out that slick chain guard

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Warming up on the new Feedback Sports Omnium portable trainer

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Erica Zevata of Maxxis-Shimano waits as her mechanic does a last minute adjustment

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Sometimes the best viewing spot is away from the main crowd.

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A pro man checking out the pro women's race

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High-speed high-fives during course inspection

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Ellen Van Loy warms up between RVs

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Noosa Professional Cyclocross team mechanic Daimeon Shanks power washes one of Meredith Miller's race bikes minutes before start.

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A well-organized tool case is crucial for a smooth running pit.

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Photographers getting ready to shoot the women's start

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Sand pit!

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Meredith Miller (Noosa) and Georgia Gould (Luna) push through the sand pit

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A spectator-friendly run-up

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Waiting for the racers to come.

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Katerina Nash solo to the first CrossVegas World Cup win

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Boulder Cycle Sport / YogaGlo's Crystal Anthony rests on the grass after finishing 7th

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An exhausted Arley Kemmerer at the finish

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The winners of the women's CrossVegas World Cup

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And here comes the pro men.

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The always chaotic start

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The pit at CrossVegas saw much less action compared to a typical Cyclocross World Cup which is usually held in colder and wetter conditions (and in Europe), but teams took zero chances and had multiple backup bikes and wheels

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The king welcomes the racers and dusts through the sand pit with open arms.

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... Another reason to have a backup at the pit.

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Corne Van Kessel gives chase through the barriers

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Eventual winner Wout Van Aert leads Sven Nyst through the Raleigh Ramp...

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While reigning US Cyclcross Champ Jeremy Powers opts to ride on the grass instead

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The top of the Sram race truck makes a nice race vantage point.

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Anti-doping controls. Don't ever miss this.

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The winners of the men's CrossVegas world cup

Over this past year or so I kept asking myself what draws me to want to photograph cycling. I love riding my bike and thanks to my understanding wife (love ya babe) I was able to do some very cool projects. Gravel Worlds, Tour of California, and now CrossVegas.

The beauty of photographing cycling is the access and the creative freedom it allows. With the amount of PR and handlers involved, access to pro athletes is such a rarity these days. But at CrossVegas, you can just walk up to pro guys like legendary Sven Nys and Katie Compton and say hello, check out their fancy super bikes, talk more trash, and make fun happy snappies. Trying to do that at a NFL/MLB/NBA game will result in your credential getting pulled and never to be seen again.

We at Element.ly were fortunate to go behind the scenes with Team Hincapie at this past Tour of California and we’re stoked to photograph CrossVegas given that it’s the first time that a WorldCup Cyclocross race is taking place in America.

Shooting CrossVegas after spending a day on the show floor at the annual InterBike convention is really akin to working a second job after a long day at the office. But the crowds! The crowds were amazing and the racing was straight up badass. Wout Van Aert and Katerina Nash drilled it.

Anyways, time to head back to the InterBike show floor. Enjoy the gallery and stay tuned for our InterBike coverage!


SUP Bro: How I Got Hooked On Stand-Up Paddleboarding

BIC Dura-Ace Paddleboard
Photo: Nathan Hurst/Element.ly

I was a hater when the stand-up paddleboarding craze hit. At the time I was an intern at Outside magazine, and the attitude there was very much “Oh God, here we go.” Like it was going to be somewhere between rollerblading and crossfit (a little bit ridiculous, cultish, and misunderstood). Except my officemate, who wouldn’t shut up about the sport.

I gave her too little credit. Now I’m hooked. Who’d have thought my 83-year-old grandma would be the catalyst? She’s always been a great enabler, gifting sporting goods to her clan before we even realized we needed them. Kayaks at the lake, a snowboard upon which I immediately broke my arm. When she suggested selling the old motorboat in the wake of my grandpa’s death, and replacing it with a couple paddleboards, it seemed … perfect.

And it was. I didn’t feel nearly as ridiculous as I would have expected just a couple years ago. I didn’t fall in. It’s actually decent exercise, especially for the core. You can do it with a back injury. The “Hey! This is fun!” moment came virtually instantly.

The boards we bought were two $750 “Dura-Ace” paddleboards from Bic sports. (Somehow, Bic makes pens, lighters, and paddleboards. One of these things is not like the other.) “Dura” because you can knock it about without too much worry, and “Ace” because … it helps your poker game. Or something.

BIC Dura-Ace Paddleboard
Photo: Nathan Hurst/Element.ly

This particular board sits atop the water, rather than cutting through it like a kayak. Pretty near the whole family tried it, to great success. It’s less ideal for long distance and carrying gear. But I’m pigheaded enough to go for miles around the lake in all directions.

My daytime fantasies now consist of loading one of these up with a couple dry sacks worth of gear and setting off on a long-distance adventure, portaging my way through northern Minnesota and maybe Canada.

They’re slow, of course—a kayak will outpace you without even trying, especially into any kind of wind—but if you’re chasing solitude, they’re great.

As you become more comfortable, the anchor of your feet to the board transitions from a firm plant to a symbiosis, and you roll on the chop underneath the board like you’re one with it. At night, after a long day on the board, the waves keep passing beneath you in bed.

People around the lake always comment—everybody seems like they’re thinking about buying one.

BIC Dura-Ace Paddleboard
Photo: Nathan Hurst/Element.ly

Wind is maddening. Especially when you need to get somewhere fast, like that time I got caught in a thunderstorm and had to seek shelter on a little island. Overreacting? Maybe. But it seemed unwise to be out on the water with a seven-foot carbon-fiber paddle lightning rod.

I’ve noticed I’m seeking out more alone time. And during that time, I think. Or I don’t. The movement and the swell of the water takes the place of your problems, your consciousness. It’s liquid meditation.

This isn’t unique to paddleboarding of course. That’s what bicycling does, too. That’s why I put on headphones and snowboard alone. But it’s my new favorite escape.

So here’s my promise. The next time someone talks up a trend to me, I’ll be a little more forgiving. Maybe I’ll even try it, and now wait several years. Except of course fat bikes. Those are ridiculous. Get out of here with that.

BIC Dura-Ace Paddleboard
Photo: Nathan Hurst/Element.ly

We Get Into the Head of Kali’s Founder to Find Out Why He Protects Yours

Brad's favorite tool? This giant vernier caliper.

Brad's favorite tool? This giant vernier caliper.

With a sign this big you won't miss it if you're driving by.

With a sign this big you won't miss it if you're driving by.

Bryan pulling a demo helmet off the shelve for a coworker.

Bryan pulling a demo helmet off the shelve for a coworker.

There's also this half pipe amongst all the helmets in the warehouse.

There's also this half pipe amongst all the helmets in the warehouse.

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You can always find something interesting at Brad's workbench. Here's a part of a prototype rig Brad made to demonstrate how Bumper Fit 2.0 works in their line of helmets. It's an early rough prototype, but a really cool demonstrator at least.

A prototype Kali Tava aero helmet overloaded with Armourgel

A prototype Kali Tava aero helmet overloaded with Armourgel

A fully-equipped bike work area

A fully-equipped bike work area

Wall ride anyone?

Wall ride anyone?

Helmets, and more helmets.

Helmets, and more helmets.

Sample room.

Sample room.

An early helmet prototype in Brad's office

An early helmet prototype in Brad's office

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Prototype Bumper Fit layers in various shape and sizes. These never made the final cut.

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With a growing line of products Brad is pretty busy nowadays, but he still rides as much as he could. Motorcycles, bikes, or in this case, a skateboard.

If you want to talk about helmets, fighter jets, motorcycles, carbon fiber and beer in one conversation, Kali Protectives’ head honcho Brad Waldron is your guy.

Coming from a successful career building some of the most well-known fighter jets currently in existence and later as director of engineering at Specialized, Brad is the type of CEO that loves to get his hands dirty. Not from the comfort of his air-conditioned office but in his R&D “lab,” deep in the back of this cavernous warehouse. There he plans and prototypes the next big thing, hidden behind rows of helmets, in front of panels of whiteboards that he absolutely cannot live without — so much so that all the walls in his office are covered with them from top to bottom.

Intense right?

Well, Brad knows how to party too. He commutes on a skateboard around the office. There are dirt jumps on a purposely-built dirt track out back and he even has a half-pipe in the warehouse all in the name of fun. So we made a trip down to Morgan Hill for a quick visit and chatted over burritos.

So what do you really do for work?

You know, you start the stuff you do thinking you’re going to ride all the time. It’s like I am now in the industry, I’ve got my own company and I can ride all the time. But the reality isn’t that. You steal your time away right? That’s why we built the half-pipe, dirt jumps in the back so we can ride.

The first thing you would do on your first day as a captain of a pirate ship?

First we’d kill all the lawyers … I used to live on a sailboat, I love the ocean, I love ships. But first thing I would do is just set sail, course, destination and enjoy.

If you can get a boat right now what would you get?

It’ll be something like a CT-41, a tall rig, something that can handle blue water cruiser anywhere in the world. Wouldn’t be brand new and super plastic—it’d be much sturdier.

Uphill or Downhill?

Oh damn, good question. Downhill. But l like to earn it.

Friend’s coming over, what would you cook?

Ribs. I’d slow cook them in beer for four hours, steam them for four hours before I throw them on the barbeque and lather on the barbeque sauce. It’s easy.

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Brad filming his next video on Kali’s Composite Fusion Plus technology. Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly

Describe your idea of perfect holiday.

Wake up early, do some riding whether it’s on the motorcycle or a bike. Something to get your blood pumping. I am a little bit of an adrenaline junkie. So something that kicks your day off before the family gets up. You get home, you’re juiced up from that adrenaline and you bring your wife coffee, as she wakes up.

What would you be your chosen superpower?

Unlimited muscle recovery so you can just go forever. So if you want to climb straight up for eight hours you can do without thinking about it. Wouldn’t it be nice? I don’t need strength, I don’t need flying, but to do the things that you love to do and never get tired from doing them, that’d be pretty cool.

Guilty pleasures?

Carne asada burritos.

What are you most proud of?

Obviously family. But when it comes to Kali, I am most proud that we never have to make a compromise. We never compromise anything about safety and nobody has ever put me in the position that I have to say I wouldn’t wear this or I wouldn’t put this on my kid’s head.

What is the transition like from building cool planes to helmets?

I was super fortunate because I was in R&D and working with military aircrafts, so I got to spend unlimited timelines and budgets. But when you move to consumer goods, it is very difficult because now there is a defined timeline and a defined amount of money you can spend. I am still accused from time to time of spending more time getting products ready than some people would like.

I would tell people when I was the director of engineering at Specialized that if I saw my own resume, I would have chucked it immediately because that transition from high-end aerospace to consumer goods is not an easy transition. You have to change your mentality. You have to think in shorter timelines.

When we were building an aircraft, I was able to build some that never saw the light of day, you did’t care what color it was. You didn’t care what the esthetics were. You just care about performance. Purely about performance.

Helmets are safety products. But in addition to that, they’re also fashion products. It’s something that if it looks stupid, people aren’t going to wear it. You have to have the balance between aesthetics, colors, graphics and everything like that.

I think it’s a very exciting time for helmets. We are really big into using softer foams. But the way the test standards are built, you have to use a hard foam to pass the test.

So engineers like me were always whining, “Oh the standards aren’t really good because they make our helmets too hard. We should change the standard, especially on the motorcycle side, the foam density is too hard.”

But what it started to do is force us to start looking at how to take care of the things that are important such as low-G impacts and smaller impacts without changing the standard. Instead of going about whining that the standards are wrong, it’s now like how do I accomplish what I want and still fit the standard. You’re starting to see a lot of people paying attention to low-G impacts.

It’s not required by the standards but we believe in it. We believe that foam densities are too hard so therefore how do we attack that problem and still pass the standard as they’re written.

Some companies start their design as an art project. So they start with a shape and then build in the engineering. We go the other way around. Giro did this great video on how they design helmets. It’s how we did it at Specialized, it’s how most people do it. It’s a good video. It starts with a designer, he started sketching out designs, started claying it, and then they brought in the engineer and said make this work.

While this is how helmets have been designed forever and it’s run by the design side, we like to start with the engineering and materials first and then see where we can fit it into the aesthetic side. You can’t do it without both. It’s got to be a marriage between performance, engineering, and the aesthetics.

Are you a morning person or a night person?

All out morning. I am dead by 10 o’clock at night but 5 o’clock in the morning—love that time. Nobody’s out, it’s that adrenaline junkie time. I get a lot more done in that time of day. How did that happen? I don’t know.

What is your favorite cocktail?

I am a beer guy at heart. But if I am going to have a cocktail, it’s going to be a Hendrix gin martini.

What about beer then?

How lucky are we living in northern California. I love a good micro beer – So many great options. City Beer is a great place, right next to SF Moto and has all the beers you want. My day-to-day beer is a Sierra Nevada Pale Ale.

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The lobby at Kali Protective’s Morgan Hill Headquarters.

What is the one job in the world you would love to do?

This one, without all of the administrative part of running a company. I love being a designer, an engineer, and making new products. So if you would have told me 5, 10, 20 years ago that I’ll be doing this today I would have done anything to have this job.

Had I known all the other parts of this, I might not be quite as excited but I feel very, very fortunate to be in this position.

Favorite book or movie?

Not a huge movie person. I do love the Bourne series. I love action thrillers with a twist.