Monday, July 21, 2014

Eddy Merckx's '69 TdF Bike

After putting an incomparable stamp of authority on his first Tour de France in 1969, Eddy Merckx would become a legend. During that Tour debut, a French rider named Christian Raymond, dubbed Merckx "The Cannibal" and the name stuck. Eddy's bicycles, too, would become the model on which most racers and racer want-to-be's would aspire. Soon after the Tour was finished, renowned bicycle illustrator Daniel Rebour would complete a detailed study of the bike Merckx rode to victory.

My French is terrible, but what I do know from the description on this picture, as well as from other sources, is that Merckx's bike for the '69 Tour was built from Reynolds tubing by Kessels in Belgium. The components are primarily Campagnolo and Cinelli. I also recognize T.A. for the clamp-on bottle cage (and the bottle, presumably) and Sedis for the chain. The bike was painted in Faema team colors of white with red contrasts. Note the "Eddy Merckx" name on the down tube, with the photo of Eddy in a diamond surrounded by World Champion colors on the head tube and seat tube.
For a lot of riders, this was the inspiration for the drillium craze. Note that Merckx used the "full Campy" along with Cinelli bars and stem (I'm certain the saddle was Cinelli, too). The derailleurs are standard Nuovo Record pieces, and the bars are Cinelli Campione del Mondo. Note that the chainrings on the crank have been modified -- the reinforcing rings/webs have been removed, and the large ring drilled out. The brakes have been lightened with partial holes, and the wheel guides have been removed from the brake pad holders. The brake levers also have been drilled -- 5 holes each. Lastly, the Campagnolo seat post (lower left) has been fluted. The fluted areas were painted red to coordinate with the Faema colors, and I've also read that the seat tube was plugged to keep water from getting inside through the flutes in the post. Some of the Campy lore (hype?) of the time said that the pedal cages were made from a special lightweight "black alloy," which in reality was simply normal black-anodized aluminum.
The Cannibal and his bike, in full-color glory.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Tour de France Coverage: Retrogrouch Style

45 years ago . . .

A young Belgian rider named Eddy Merckx rode his first Tour de France. Arriving at the prologue on June 28, 1969, his bike bore his own name emblazoned on the down tube and his own picture on the head tube -- something that probably seemed brash for a rider of only 24, but Merckx had already demonstrated that he had the legs and lungs to back it up. He had already won his first Milan-San Remo, the '67 World Championships, the '67 Giro d'Italia, and the '68 Paris-Roubaix. Though he was ready to race the '68 TdF, he was denied the chance by his Faema team because the tour that year was still using the "national team" format.

Merckx nearly missed the '69 TdF because of a positive doping test which ejected him from that year's Giro. Merckx denied the charges (and still does) and filed appeals. With the finding that there was significant evidence of irregularities in the testing, if not outright conspiracy against Merckx, the suspension was overturned in time for the Tour.

As the '69 Tour began in Roubaix, Merckx finished a strong 2nd in the opening prologue time trial, 7 seconds down from winner Rudi Altig. The next day, the tour's first stage was held in two parts -- the second part being a team time trial -- and it was there that Merckx led his Faema squad to victory as he put on his first race leader's Yellow Jersey.

Eddy briefly relinquished the Yellow in the 3rd stage, when a break got away and he chose not to chase it. His Faema teammate, Julien Stevens, was in that breakaway group and assumed the race-leader's jersey. Only one other rider in the '69 Tour, Désiré Letort, would wear yellow that year, briefly, after stage 5.

Stage 6 was the first real mountain stage, from Mulhouse to Ballon d'Alsace. Merckx won convincingly, 55 seconds ahead of the next finisher. It was his first Tour de France stage victory, and with it he recaptured the Yellow Jersey, and gained two to four minutes on his main general classification rivals, like Roger Pingeon, Raymond Poulidor, and Felice Gimondi. That would not be enough for the man who would assume the famous nickname "the Cannibal" during his stellar '69 Tour performance.

In stage 8, another individual time trial, Merckx would win again, adding a few seconds to his lead. Rudi Altig, just 2 seconds off Merckx's pace in the time trial, was still in contention overall, but it wouldn't last.

The 9th stage, in the Alps, Roger Pingeon attacked on the Col de la Forclaz and managed to ride away from everyone except Merckx. Though Pingeon took the stage win that day, he took no time back from Merckx. Altig faltered in the climbs that day and fell out of contention for the GC, while Pingeon climbed to 2nd place overall, though still more than 5 minutes behind behind the leader. Merckx would add to his lead by winning stage 11, and staying with the lead groups through the remaining Alpine mountain stages.

Eddy Merckx rode solo for almost 140 k and added
nearly 8 minutes to his already insurmountable GC lead.
With an 8 minute advantage going into the Pyrenees, one would think that the leader of the Tour would be content to ride conservatively for the remainder of the race. That would not suit Eddy Merckx. In stage 17, one of the most difficult stages in the Pyrennees, Merckx and his Faema teammates controlled the pace over the first climbs of the day, the Col du Peyresourde, and the Col d'Aspin. On the Col du Tourmalet, the peloton disintegrated to only a handful of riders. After powering over the top of the Tourmalet, Merckx, thinking he was leading a small breakaway group, looked around to find himself alone. Rather than slow down, he continued to push his attack. He increased his lead on the road to the Col d'Aubisque. As he pushed himself over the top of the Aubisque, he had built more than a 7 minute lead over the next riders on the road. Even that was not enough. Exhausted, but driven, Merckx continued to push the pace over the last kilometers into Mourenx, by which time he had ridden solo for nearly 140 kilometers, and finished almost 8 minutes ahead of anyone else. His command of the Tour for the remaining stages was unassailable.

On July 20th, the final stage was another individual time trial, which Merckx handily won, and with it, his first Tour de France. Roger Pingeon, in second place, was just shy of 18 minutes behind. Poulidor, more than 22. Merckx had won the Yellow Jersey, the Green Jersey for Points Leader, the Mountains Classification (which would eventually become the Polka Dot Jersey, but that didn't exist yet), and the White Jersey which in those days represented the "Combined Classification," not the "Best Young Rider" category as it does today. Had "Best Young Rider" existed in 1969, he'd have won that, too. In addition, he was also given the Combativity Award, and his Faema team won the Teams Classification. Never before, and never since, has anyone so clearly dominated every aspect of the Tour de France.

"The Cannibal" was born, and it was 45 years ago . . . Today.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Who's in Whose Way?

While I was out of town riding around Maui, disconnected from the internet and the news back home, I missed this enlightening story from my hometown paper, the Akron Beacon Journal:

Apart from offering no real insights into the problems of sharing the road, Malcolm X Abram (who would probably do better if he stuck to writing music reviews) tries to walk that "presenting both sides" line, yet unwittingly reveals the irrational hostility directed at cyclists by many drivers -- though I doubt anyone who is not a cyclist would even notice.

Dubbing motorists as the "Fearsome Fours" and cyclists as the "Terrible Twos," Abram claims that "both clans seem to want the other to get out of their respective way." I'm guessing he probably hasn't ridden a bike since he got his drivers license, because while I know without a doubt that many motorists feel that way, I don't know any cyclists who do. Cyclists know they are the minority on the roads -- and a very vulnerable minority at that. To even suggest otherwise reveals a car-centric point of view.

The article then goes on to talk about how many miles of bike lanes have been added by the city as if it's a lot somehow. Now, I realize that Akron is not a very big city, but "nearly 10 miles of conventional bike lanes" and "nearly 13 miles of shared lanes" is really nothing -- and those lanes do nothing to promote "sharing the road" or safety for cyclists. Population-wise, Akron is pretty close to Madison, Wisconsin -- where they have well over 200 miles of bike lanes and paths. I realize that Madison is hardly typical, but still, if you ask me, 23 miles is barely worth mentioning.

To get the bicyclists view, Abram quotes Doug, a friend of mine who works at a local bike shop, Century Cycles. Great! Doug points out that the more cyclists on the roads, the more aggravation is seen from drivers. I can agree with that -- to the motorists' point of view, it just means more "obstacles" in their way (wake up, drivers -- those "obstacles" are people!). But then the article gives us the drivers' perspective:

"For some drivers, it's when two-wheeler operators want to have their commuting cake and eat it too that spark flurries of four-letter words."

"I have no problem with cyclists if they follow the rules," Robert Godward said while enjoying a beer with a few of his buddies. "They can act like a pedestrian or they can act like a vehicle. You don't get to switch back and forth as you see fit. That's when I have a problem," he said, adding he's indulged a few fantasies about moving cyclists out of his way with his car.

Ok, first of all -- F#%$ You, Robert Godward.  (Sorry everyone else -- just had to get that out of the way.)

Actually, I think people like Godward actually DO have a problem, whether cyclists follow the rules or not. And while some would like to say that this is just one guy who doesn't actually speak for all motorists, I believe he speaks for a lot of them. Perhaps it's just as significant (maybe more so) that while the majority of motorists may not fantasize about killing cyclists, they're also not likely to call out a jackass like him for his ignorance. Threaten somebody with a gun, you're a menace. Threaten them with a 3,000 - 4,000 pound vehicle, and you're just another driver, and a "credible" source for a half-assed news story. The only people who would take offense at a "harmless joke" about maiming or possibly killing cyclists with a car are the cyclists themselves who know too well the reality of car-vs-bike collisions. And if we get offended, we'll be told that we're just being overly sensitive cry babies.

Then one of the guys at the bar says bicyclists should follow the rules of the road -- and wear a helmet! Umm, that's not a rule of the road. And while I usually wear a helmet, I have no illusions whatsoever that it will do me any good when his buddy acts out on his fantasy to get me "out of his way" with his car (or should I say, deadly weapon of mass destruction?).

How about the line "they can act like a pedestrian or they can act like a vehicle. You don't get to switch back and forth as you see fit"? Actually, we can. It's one of the advantages of a bicycle. Complaining about that is kind of like complaining about bikes because they don't use gas and don't pollute the air. Cars have advantages, too -- like being able to carry the whole family and all the groceries and other cargo very quickly over long distances. We don't hold that against them. Now, should cyclists switch back and forth willy-nilly, hopping from the road to the sidewalk to zip past traffic, then dart back out onto the road? Hell no. That bugs me as much as it bugs any driver. But the ability to get off a bike and become a pedestrian for a bit is one of the things that makes a bike really convenient at times.

The other thing revealed here is the perception that cyclists don't follow the rules of the road, or the notion that that somehow justifies the treatment of them. There are some really ignorant cyclists on the road. You can often identify them because they're the ones riding the wrong way on the road, or riding on the sidewalk (which, ironically, is where a lot of motorists want them). If you're a cyclist, eventually it gets thrown in your face that "you bikers always blow through traffic lights." Several problems with that. First -- I believe that most serious bike commuters (which the ABJ article seems to be focusing on) do actually obey lights and signs. As for those riders who do ride through the lights, I'm quite sure that most of them do it only after making sure the coast is clear. But those riders are mainly a danger to themselves, not others.

On the other hand (and I've pointed this out time and again, so I apologize for being repetitious) we all see cars blast through lights all the time. Every day. Whether I'm in my car, or on my bike, I don't think a day goes by that I don't see at least a couple cars do it. There are some intersections (any town, any city) where it's practically standard operating procedure that at least one or two (or three) cars fly through just as the light is turning red. Often, there will be another that blasts through with the pedal to the floor when traffic going the other direction has already gotten the green light. Drivers have the uncanny ability to ignore that. Some will even deny vehemently that it happens. "Those bicycles are worse!" they'll argue. But I've argued time and again that the average motorist sees far more driver infractions every day than they see bicycles on the road (law abiding or otherwise) in a week. Which is the bigger threat to others?

Ultimately, Abram's article offers no real insights -- just leaves us with the thought that the "terrible twos" and the "fearsome fours" should just learn to get along, but probably won't. Brilliant. And as much as I'd like to chalk up this lousy article as another sign of the decline of the ABJ, unfortunately it's typical of news media stories that deal with bicyclists.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Riding in Hawaii

Regular readers have probably noticed I didn't have a new post for about a week or so -- I was away on a family vacation, and even though I expected to still get to the blog at least a couple of times during the week, it turned out that I essentially had no internet for most of the trip. That had me pretty well cut off from everything. Sorry about that. But here's a report on where I was.

We stayed on the coast of West Maui, in the town of
Ka'anapali.
We spent a week in Hawaii -- on the island of Maui, to be exact. That's not a trip one normally takes on a teacher's salary, but my father-in-law is a world traveller, and once a year he takes the family on trip somewhere. Last year was Alaska. This year, Hawaii.

This vacation was my first real opportunity to try out my Bike Friday traveling bike. It was great to be able to take a bike along without any extra fees. I just rolled the travel case up to the baggage check and checked it like a regular suitcase (which, essentially, it is!). When we got to our destination, it only took a few minutes to get the bike unpacked and put together. I should also point out that it was nice not having to find a rental bike -- the Bike Friday is my own bike and although it looks unusual, it fits me perfectly.

Bike Friday, and a scenic overlook by Ma'alaea Bay.
About riding in Maui, there aren't really a lot of roads, but the roads there are nice for riding. Most of the main roads are wide and the pavement is smooth. Much of the island is protected park land, with the western portion being dominated by the West Maui Mountains and a forest preserve, and the eastern portion being dominated by Mount Haleakala, which is a volcano -- and a national park. There are highways that encircle the entire island coastline, but only a few highways that pass into the interior of the island.

Early on our first morning, I got up and went for a ride down the western coastline, on the Honoapaiilani Highway from Ka'anapali, where we stayed, down to Ma'alaea Bay. The ride down the western coastline is relatively flat and passes through the town of Lahaina (which used to be the royal capitol of the Kingdom of Hawaii) and a number of resorts -- which means lots of traffic and lots of tourists. Still, as one gets further from the resorts and closer to the bay, the scenery gets better and better.

The sun rising over the West Maui mountains.
There was a wind farm on a ridge along the southern part of
the mountains, leading down to Ma'alaea Bay. The wind
here was strong and constant.

Riding over the northern part of West Maui was a challenge.
Lots of hills -- but also, beautiful, unspoiled scenery.
Another ride I took was over the northern part of West Maui. This route follows the coastline and has great views. This part of Maui is not as developed, so there is a lot more unspoiled scenery. Also, there is less traffic, though the roads are narrower. But this was a seriously challenging ride. Lots of twists and turns, lots of climbs and descents. Besides all the ups and downs, the wind blowing in from the ocean was unrelenting. The ride was totally worthwhile though. Being able to explore roads like this on a bike is exactly why I wanted a bike I could bring with me when traveling.


There were some great views from the road.
This red clay soil was all over the island. Here, it was like
a huge red wall.
Arriving at the bottom of a long descent, I found a little hidden beach,
and parked nearby was this awesome taco truck, catching some of the
surfer business. After 40 miles of climbing, descending, and fighting
headwinds, it was like an oasis. Chicken tacos and ice cold Coke. Heaven.
A ride I attempted, but was unable to finish was the ride up the volcano Haleakala. Starting at sea level, the road to the summit climbs over 10,000 ft. in about 36 miles. People call it the "ride to the sun." There are a lot of tour companies that drive people up the volcano and let them coast down it on fat-tire cruiser bikes or mountain bikes, but I had no interest in doing that. I wanted to ride up.

I made it up to the part in the blue circle, just to the edge
of the national park boundary. It was another 12 miles
and 3500 feet of elevation to the summit, but I was toast.
It was recommended that I start at the town of Paia on the northern coast, which is the traditional starting point for the "ride to the sun." From there, it's just continuous climbing. The grade isn't all that steep for most of the route, but it's constant and never really lets up. About 14 miles into the ride, one gets to the town of Kula, which is the last town before getting to the real heart of the volcano and where the climbing becomes more earnest (that's where the switchbacks start). Kula is also the last place to refuel or refill water bottles before getting into the national park, though one can fill bottles at the park's visitor center about 25 miles into the ride.

My family planned to drive to the summit and they gave me a few hours head start, so hopefully we would all meet me at the top. I was advised that descending the volcano after riding to the top (where the temperature could easily be 30 degrees colder) is a good way to get hypothermic, so it seemed like a good plan.

I did get to the summit, but by car, not bike. Pretty amazing
view at the summit. This is the massive crater of Haleakala and
its many cinder cones.
It didn't quite go as planned. I made it about 23 - 24 miles and over 6500 feet in elevation, but it was slow going. I found that after every couple miles of switchbacks, I'd need to stop and catch my breath -- but every time I stopped, my legs would start cramping up horrendously. With another 12 - 13 miles of road, and another 3500 feet of climbing to go, my family caught up with me in the car, and I was glad to see them. My legs were aching, and as they were passing I just said "let me in, I'm toast." I think if I had the chance to do it over again, I'd start at Kula, which is just before the first set of switchbacks. Instead of burning up all that energy over the first 14 miles getting to the heart of the volcano, I'd have liked to have had that energy for the last 12 miles to the summit. I'm trying not to feel too bad, though. After talking to local riders that I encountered during the week, I found most had never attempted the ride to the sun, and those that did spent a lot of time training for it. They were shocked I tried it at all having only been on Maui for three days.

I did get to do more riding during the week, getting out almost every day. All told, being able to see so much of Maui on my own bike was a great experience -- the Bike Friday worked out well.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Contador's Broken Bike: A Surprise? Really?

For the past week, I've been pretty much without internet access -- making it difficult to keep up the blog (or to keep up with much of anything, for that matter). But look at what happened in the great big old bicycle race in France while I was away.

Alberto Contador's Specialized McLaren Tarmac -- a surprise?
So, Contador is out of the race with a broken tibia, and various rumors are circulating the web about his bike, which was apparently broken in half. At least four different stories were put forth by Specialized, first denying that the bike was broken at all, then saying it was broken because it fell off the roof of a car. Then the story was that it was not Contador's bike, but teammate Nicolas Roche's, and that it was run over by a car. Then the story changed again -- it was Contador's bike (the clearly visible number plate made that much clear) that got run over by the car. Never mind that the bike is broken cleanly, not smashed. Then, the last version (which VeloNews calls the "most plausible") was that the bike was on the roof of the team car and got clipped by a bike on the roof of another team car when trying to pass on a very narrow road.
Really cruel irony with the PowerBar ad on the VeloNews article.
There was no actual video footage of Contador's crash, but on the NBCSports TV coverage, one could see a Tinkoff-Saxo bike being picked up after the crash, and it at least appeared to be intact, so it's hard to say exactly what happened. According to the VeloNews story, the initial report on the Tour's race radio, as well as NBC Sports' Steve Porino, who arrived just after the crash, reported that Contador's bike was "in pieces." Porino's report said Contador's "frame snapped in half. They threw it in a heap in the back of the car."

While we may never know exactly what happened -- if the bike broke and caused the crash, or if the crash broke the bike, or if the bike was actually broken in some unrelated incident -- I don't have much trouble believing that a carbon fiber bike, built to get every advantage by cutting weight at the expense of durability, might actually break during use. Anybody who's surprised by such a dramatically broken bike is kidding themselves. It doesn't exactly make good ad copy, but it happens all the time.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Bicycle Innovations For People Who Don't Ride Bikes

I'm always skeptical when "home fashion" and "lifestyle" magazines write about bicycles and bicycle gear -- they almost always highlight the most inane and pointless "innovations" designed to appeal to people who very likely don't ride bikes.

The latest I've seen was this from Dwell -- a magazine and store for the fashionable home. American Cycle: Modern Gear for Biking. It's a "roundup of tech-savvy biking gear and stylish new cycles" that will "give you more reasons to ride." Anybody who needs this gear to give them a reason to ride is obviously happier being seen in a fashionable café with a bike near them than actually on their bike.

 Here are the highlights:
Double-O Lights: this 80-lumen headlight's main selling point is that it clings to its holder with magnets and won't fall off. That, and you can fit it around your U-lock so nobody steals your fashionable lights. I had no idea that headlights were just falling off bikes all over the place. No word on pricing, but I have no doubt that brighter lights are probably available for less. Worried about theft? Unclip the light and take it with you. There's an idea.
The Shelfie: "A (literally) elevated storage solution, the Shelfie unit boasts sculpted curves as fine as the ones on your Italian cruiser." Ummm. . . it's a box. It has a hook on one side that supports the bike by its saddle. I cannot actually imagine something quite so pointless heralded as a tech-savvy innovation. Funded through Kickstarter, but the price has yet to be announced.
You just knew they'd have the Vanhawks Valour electronically "connected" bike on the list. The carbon-fiber bike sports the kind of build quality we expect from department store bicycle-shaped-objects. The maker also touts "safety" while the bike itself actually has no brakes. (see more HERE)
The "Growler" bike from Inner City Bikes. This "durable, industrial" bike's most notable feature, apart from it's really unconventional (and uncomfortable-looking) geometry, is the fact that it has this built-in holder for a growler. That's a half-gallon bottle of beer -- really popular with "beer artisans" lately. Enough with the beer and bikes thing already, people. Fun fact about carbonation -- beer does not hold up to a bike ride. If you can't wait until you get home before you have a beer, it might be time for a meeting.  
Cycle Pack from Nanamica: "This new edition of the Japanese-made backpack is a step up in the ever-stylish Hershcel category of carryalls." If it sounds expensive, that's because it is, at $480. But ultimately, it's just a backpack. OOHH -- but the article says the part that rests against your back is padded. I have a $10 backpack from Target, and it's padded, too. 
Po Campo Ultimate Bike Share Bag -- specially made to fit in the baskets on those bike-share bikes in cities like New York, Chicago, and London. I suppose if somebody uses bike share bikes a lot, it might be handy, and at $85 it seems like a bargain compared to the Nanamica backpack, but what do I know?
Cleverhood rain poncho. I actually have no problem with rain capes or ponchos -- I don't particularly favor them myself, but some people like them, and that's fine. And I suppose if somebody wants a rain cape, the one from Cleverhood is probably very nice, but then at $239, it had better be. But I think if this guy is going to ride in the rain, he's rendered his rain cape completely pointless by riding a fenderless bike.
Now THAT'S what I like to see. The Cambium is the new non-leather saddle from Brooks -- made with rubber and a specially bonded fabric top -- it looks great, and reports so far are very good. No complaints from me about a Brooks saddle being in this "roundup" -- but I had to groan over this bit from the description: "Anyone's (sic) who had the pleasure of owning a Brooks racing saddle has also felt the pain of breaking one in." Time to bust the myth. The only people who say things like that are people who've never ridden a Brooks leather saddle.
The Reductivist Ring Tool -- a minimalist multi-tool that also can serve as a key ring. It has several hex heads, plus screwdrivers, a Torx head, and a couple of spoke wrenches, and . . . wait for it . . . a bottle opener! Does every bike tool now have to incorporate a bottle opener? 
Musguard -- This rolled up piece of plastic can be unrolled and strapped to the seat tube, turning it into, well, not a fender or mudguard, exactly -- more like a filth deflector. When not in use, it can be rolled up around the top tube (as shown). Whatever. Just get some fenders.
And a Fortune bonus -- yes, the folks at Fortune are weighing in, too, with their pick for the bike of the future.
The Samsung Smart Bike -- which connects to a Samsung smart phone -- gives you GPS, a rear-view camera, laser-beam generated "bike lane" lights, and more. The curved frame is "meant to reduce the roughness of riding on urban terrain." Sure it is. At least it has brakes. Doesn't look like much room for a fender in the back, though -- so that rear-view camera is bound to get covered with road spooge in no time at all. Shock of all shocks, though -- is that a Brooks sprung saddle on there? Unbelievable.

Unrelated News: Blog updates will be a little spotty for the next week or so. I'll post what I can when I can. News will come later. Thanks for your patience.

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Friday, July 4, 2014

Happy July 4th

Just a quick post today for those two or three people who are sitting around wasting time on the internet instead of celebrating America's birthday.

My little neighborhood in Akron always has a July 4th Kids' Bike Parade -- all the kids decorate their bikes and parade around the block with a marching drum corps and a police escort. It's a perfect day for it.

The Retrokids and their one-family parade train.
The Retrokids decorated our bike train -- consisting of my early 80s Stumpjumper and a double Trail-A-Bike. For added effect, we also tacked on our old Burley trailer with a cardboard cutout that I made of the Statue of Liberty.
There's the train in all it's glory. Stumpjumper, double Trail-A-Bike, and a Burley trailer.
With the three of us pedaling, and pulling Lady Liberty along with us, we attracted more than our fair share of attention. There were ribbons for the best-decorated bikes -- somehow we didn't win. Are you kidding me? We were practically a bike parade all by ourselves. Doesn't matter. There were popsicles for everyone at the end of the ride. Fun times.

Happy 4th of July folks. Now shut off the computer and go outside!