Archive for the 'bike equipment' Category

SeaOtter 2013

April 23, 2013

After last year’s launch of OPEN at SeaOtter, this year’s event was quite different. While last year, media attention was very high to check out the new kids on the block, this year media attention was matched by  consumer interest.

The expo at SeaOtter is never crazy-busy, at least not what you would think when you hear that 60,000 show up during the four days. Whenever and wherever you look in the expo space, there is good traffic but nobody will mistake it for a Japanese commuter train. To me it seems that many people just come to race and then immediately pack up and go home.

That said, this actually serves a tiny company like OPEN just fine, as we have no way to talk to 60,000 people anyway. And I found that the people who do walk the expo are fantastic, very interested and very knowledgeable. These were my take-away notes from four days of SeaOtter:

  • I was amazed at how many people had heard of OPEN already, which obviously was quite exciting for me.
  • The people who stopped by the booth really knew a lot about us already, and the AXX1 & The Electric One were both very well-received.
  • The number of industry big-wigs was very high. This has become a networking event for many. While I abhor networking, I did have several very fruitful meetings, and you will hopefully see the results of this in the future.
  • Props to SeaOtter for making the event so family-friendly. The number of kids on bikes was truly astounding, and the 3-year olds with full-on helmets bigger than the rest of their bodies are hilarious to watch (in fact it’s even funnier when they try to be “cool” by hanging the helmet on their handlebar, as the weight is so enormous they cannot possibly steer their bike straight.
  • The number of 10-year olds with bikes that must have cost at least 50 years of allowance was also amazing.
  • But most of all, it was great to see how much fun these kids were having, both in the cycling events and the other expo entertainment.
  • Lots of new product introductions, lots of 650b stuff, and just like before most industry people have no idea where this trend is going. It’s amazing how virtually everybody introduces 650b products just because others are and because they don’t want to miss the boat, and how few manufacturers actually know why. There are some who do, don’t get me wrong, and even I believe in it for certain specific cases (basically when bigger wheels won’t fit due to frame size, suspension travel or frame configuration), but they are few and far apart. You can also see it in the justifications brands use for their 650b product – it rarely makes sense.
  • That said, I think 650b is here to stay. Together with the 29er it will be the standard going forward, and the 26″ wheel is truly history. Will OPEN ever make a 650b frame? If there is a good reason to do so, definitely. If not, then not. So far we don’t have a frame design coming up that requires 650b wheels, although one design comes pretty close. So who knows, it’s still so early that design changes could push it over the edge, it’s hard to say. But definitely nothing coming soon, we have no desire to simply join the stampede.
  • Despite all the mountain bike introductions, I think the biggest news was on the road: the introduction of SRAM’s new groups with 22 speeds (11-sp cassettes) and hydraulic brakes. Their hydraulic rim brakes are gorgeous, and seem to work very well. The disk brake versions will be interesting to follow, especially to see what the UCI decides to do. The levers have received mixed reviews, the taller dimension makes them less elegant than the old designs. But you have to put the hydraulic cylinder somewhere, and the taller hoods actually give you a great grip and some room to move your hands around. Great for long rides and also great for more security in tricky situations (think cyclocross).
  • I come out of SeaOtter with a lot of drive to push forward on our new designs. The meetings I had were just what the doctor ordered to make good headway, and I think we’re on the right track to bring out  some really nice things. Nothing in the near future, this is all still pretty far away, but I’m excited about it.
At SeaOtter from left to right: Andy, myself, Jason and Mark (both from our Newport Beach retailer Pro Bike Supply).

At SeaOtter from left to right: Andy, myself, Jason and Mark (both from our Newport Beach retailer Pro Bike Supply).

Eurobike clever stuff

August 31, 2012

Not so much big news at Eurobike this year if you ask me. 10,000 electric bikes (9,997 of them ugly), in general very nice (mostly understated) graphics and lots of 650B mountain bike wheels and bikes “because we don’t really like it but we don’t want to miss the boat”.

Two of the smartest things I’ve seen so far are very small:

Syntace showed a really clever solution to having a quick release on their X-12 thru-axle. Instead of having a quick release lever both fornt and rear, they have a small allen key that stores inside the axle when not used.

It locks in tightly, so you won’t lose it during your ride, and when you need it you simply pull it out and use it for your front or rear axle. Or for our seattube collar or any other bolt on your frame of that size. It’s quite light (around 30g) with a very clean design. Brilliant.

Rotor has big news with a new aero crank (the Flow) and a new power-measuring crank (which measures both sides, pull and push, also very nice). But the little news was cool too.

With so many bottom bracket standards, press fit bearings come with sleeves in a gazillion widths. That means that when you need a replacement, chances are your store doesn’t have the right one. Rotor now offers a one-size-fits-all solution, with a harmonica design. Very clever.

That’s it for now, too many meetings here at Eurobike to write too much. Enjoy the weekend.

Never leave home without

August 29, 2012

A short break from the crap side of the sport, important to remember that regardless of what some clowns do, the best part of cycling is still to just get on a bike and ride.

So here is an ode to the smallest piece of apparel I wear, but my favorite. I have various types of jerseys, shorts and even shoe covers, but nothing is quite as versatile as the skull cap. Yet I rarely see people use one.

I got my first skull cap from RnH, the now defunct Canadian apparel brand that was big in the nineties. It was fleece, perfect to protect your head (especially your ears) from the cold.

My second skull cap was from Mammut, pretty similar in design. They both had the same drawback. Their thickness meant that in the spring or fall, when the weather fluctuates and you sometimes ride with or without the skull cap, you need to adjust your helmet straps constantly.

That problem diminished as I started to wear a skull cap even in warmer weather. If it didn’t protect against the cold, it would protect against the bugs and the sun.

Especially when follicly challenged as I am, that’s a big thing. It’s funny to have a “helmet vent-shaped sun burn on your head once, but the fun wears off a lot quicker than the burn does. The only problem; It gets pretty hot under that cap.

The winter skull cap from Castelli, the “Viva Thermo Skully”

Now Castelli has solved both issues.

First off, their winter skull cap is very thin, even though it is still fleeced. This means you can use it under your helmet without needing to lengthen your straps.

It keeps you warm, including your ears, and you don’t really notice you’re wearing it, it’s that comfortable. This is what I have used for the past year, until I lost it a few months ago.

The summer skullcap from Castelli, called “the Summer Skullcap” (yes, yes)

Talking to Castelli about a replacement, I found out they also solved the second problem, that of the hotness in the summer. Next to the winter skull cap, they now also offer a summer skull cap.

I’ve used the latter for two months now, and I love it. It’s thin and light, doesn’t cover your ears (like an elephant, I use my ears to cool down), it is very comfortable to wear and it offers sufficient protection against sun and bugs. It also holds on to sweat, and any sweat that is locked into that cap won’t run into your eyes.

You can find more info about the summer skull cap here and about the winter skull cap here.

Disclosure: I do and have done some business with Castelli from time to time, though not enough to make me love a skull cap I don’t love!

World Championship bar height

September 27, 2011

Earlier this year I spoke about bike set-up, and how handlebars are being placed lower and lower these past half century. Of course evolution doesn’t go that fast, riders today are no more flexible than Merckx was. Rather than “regular” riders trying to get as low as some of today’s pros, it would be better for pros to go higher (like Merckx, not exactly a chopper in his hayday, was he)?

Of course this topic always leads to all sorts of macho nonsense like “slam that stem” and other (sometimes tongue-in-cheek) efforts to look “pro” when you’re not and remove any pleasure from riding a bike. This is not to say that a low position doesn’t work for some, only that people should look for their correct position, not their lowest position, and that in many cases – pro and “regular” – that correct position is higher than people often try to squeeze themselves into.

Recently, somebody commented that apparently I know Cancellara’s position is wrong and somebody should tell him. But it’s not a matter of his position being right or wrong, it’s about the bars being so low you lose the benefit of the drops. If a rider puts his hoods where his lowest comfortable and aero position is, then why not have flat bars?

Don’t take my word for it, just look at the photo and tell me if you see anything odd:

Fairly unorthodox sprint for Cancellara

Body position vs bar height – part 3

August 8, 2011

So, what does this all mean for frame design?

Over the past decades, frames have been designed with shorter and shorter headtubes to please the pros seeking an advantage through a lower handlebar position. Those same geometries are then offered to the masses. As you’ve seen in part 1 and part 2, the only problem with this approach is that it’s wrong. It doesn’t work for the pros, let alone for the masses.

So we need to get these headtubes longer again, and thankfully there is a way to do this without creating a problem for those riders who like their low position (out of habit or because they have the flexibility to take advantage of such a low position).

You see this in the new Cervelo geometry for example. The R3, R5, R5ca and S5 are obviously race-ready, as they are used successfully by the men and women of Garmin-Cervelo. Yet the headtubes are taller than they used to be. Here’s how it works:

The new geometry from the Cervelo R3 and S5 series has a taller headtube so that people can put their handlebars on the correct height without needing too many spacers. At the same time the bars can still be placed low enough to fit any pro rider we have ever supported. The advantage of a longer headtube is that it increases the torsional stiffness of the frame, which in turn improves handling.

On aero frames, it also improves the aerodynamics because despite the headtube being wider than the bunch of spacers sitting atop of it if it were shorter, the shape of the headtube is much, much better and more than compensates for the increased frontal area.

So how do riders still attain the low position with the taller headtube? If you mount a -17 degree stem (that’s a flat stem, so a stem that sits on the bike horizontally) on the new geometry, the handlebars sit just as low as they would with a -6 degree stem (the standard) on the old geometry. 3T, FSA and several other manufacturers now have such -17 degree stems available.

Of course, that said no pro should ever ride the R3 except for Paris-roubaix (which it was designed for originally). The aero frames are ALWAYS the fastest solution, even in mountainous terrain, so every pro taking their profession seriously and wanting to get to the finish the fastest should ride them at all times (except Roubaix).

Body position vs bar height – part 2

August 2, 2011

Yesterday we looked at how the body will find its ideal angles almost “despite” your efforts to put it in a different position. Therefore moving the handlebars lower will result in a more vertical arm position (as the shoulders remain in the same place). More vertical arms have two disadvantages:

  1. Aerodynamics. More vertical arms means more frontal area and a worse shape for the arm cross sections (same width, less depth in the direction of the airflow).
  2. Handling. With the arms more vertical and the elbow more stretched, handling is less precise. The more your elbows are in an angle, the more you push and pull on the bars which is good. Stretching your elbows means you’re “flailing” your arms more which gives less precision, rather than pushing on one side and pulling on the other. In descents, etc, this doesn’t really come into play as people will lower their back for the corners and pedaling action is not at peak performance then anyway, so this issue plays mostly when riding on the rivet in groups, especially in high effort, high stress situations like the classics on narrow roads. See also the advice from Henk Lubberding.

Of course, riders intuitively know all of this, or at least their bodies do. Which is why in the past 30 years as the trend progressed to move handlebars down, the amount of time spent in the drops has decreased and most time is now spent on the hoods. Which in turn explains why the riders of today sit just as low as those 30 years ago, despite having dropped their bars by 4″/10cm.

Body position vs bar height – part 1

July 29, 2011

The information below we also share with our pro riders, to combat the misconception that lower handlebars are “better”. The basics:

  1. The riders’ bodies have “built in” angles at which they can perform the best. So when a rider is at maximum effort, the body will put the body in the position most suited for that effort. In particular this pertains to the hip angle as it is the angle between legs and torso that determines mostly how the power is generated. Note: I am not talking here about increasing power by changing body angles, the power a rider can deliver is pretty much determined by his ability to transport oxygen and flush out lactic acid, but to generate that power (whatever level that is), the body will want to put itself into its optimal position, i.e. its optimal hip angle in order to best use the muscles best suited for the effort.
  2. This means that with the bottom bracket and saddle fixed, when the body assumes its optimal hip angle, the back position is also determined. There simply is a position for the back at which the body is best capable of giving maximum performance, because it is the back position at which its angle with the legs are such that the optimal hip angle is achieved.
  3. Hence, changing the handlebar height does not really change the back position, at least not during serious exertion. Therefore, with the back position more or less fixed, a change in handlebar position means a change in arm stretch/reach/angles. With the back more or less fixed, meaning the shoulders more or less fixed, the arms will assume whatever position it takes to connect the shoulders to the hands holding the handlebars (basically the elbows take up the slack).

The idea that you will sit lower if you just lower your bars is not true in most cases, other than the extreme (basically if you can only reach your bars with stretched arms, which is a bad idea based on the Lubberding point, then lowering those barrs would pull down your entire body into an unnatural position. But if that is a position you can sustain, then you can also keep your back in that position when you raise your bars from there and bend your elbows.

Next we’ll look at what this means for performance. Any comments or questions, please leave them in the comments section below or let me know via twitter @gerardvroomen.

2 points on arm position in cycling – #2

July 27, 2011

The second point on arm position comes from Gabriel Rasch. He is the inventor of the Gabba jacket that Castelli developed with the Cervelo TestTeam, a tight-fitting aero rain jacket that works best in the worst conditions. I hear it will be sold in stores in the future too.

Gabriel has the most amazing position on the bike that I have ever seen. I noticed this at the first ever training camp of the Cervelo TestTeam. We went on a ride with sponsors, media, etc and on the way back to the hotel we were riding side-by-side for a long stretch (The only thing I remember more than Gabba’s arms was that the ride ended with a sprint where Gabba dragged me to the front group, at which point I misunderstood his intentions. He slowed down because he knew where the line was, I didn’t so I passed him to circle through and was surprised nobody took over from there. When finally somebody did pass me, it was Thor in full sprint. Suffice to say I was unable to catch that wheel. He never thanked me for the lead-out).

Anyway, the brilliance of Gabba’s position is in his arms. When he rides on the hoods or in the drops, his elbows don’t stick out to the sides at all, his forearms come straight back from the handlebars and straight down from the shoulder (nitpicking trigonometrists will now point out that this would require the bars to be the width of the shoulders, as per the myth I ridiculed in an earlier blog). In fact he twists his elbows inwards. He is not aware of it being anything special, it’s just what his arms do naturally, but try it on your next ride and see what happens when you twist those elbows inward.

Gabriel Rasch on his Cervelo

Not a great example of Gabba's position as he is not on the hoods or in the drops, but a nice shot of the Gabba rain jersey/jacket

2 points on arm position in cycling – #1

July 26, 2011

The first point on arm position I got from Henk Lubberding, a famous Dutch rider from the Ti-Raleigh/Panasonic period. I was a guest together with him once in “De Avondetappe”, a Dutch daily talkshow about the Tour de France. Great guy, great thinker on cycling (he has this clever technique he calls “Breaking with ABS on a bike”) and the topic of arm position also came up.

Henk Lubberding in his Panasonic time.


What he observes a lot (and so do I since he pointed it out) is that people ride with their arms stretched out. Especially in the drops, this happens a lot. The main reason is that people (including pros) put their handlebars too low because they think it looks pro and it will give them a lower position.

Of course, this is not how it works, your body knows darn well how low it wants to sit, and the only thing you change when you lower your bars is that your arms stretch more, your back stays in more or less the same position. I’ll expand on that more in a later blog. The main problem Henk sees is that when your arms are fully stretched, the elbows are locked. This prevents you from making subtle steering movements, and as a results you’re more jerky and less precise, simply put you’re handling will start to look like a dump truck rather than a sports car.

Bend the elbows (which often means “raise your bars”) and you’ll have better control over your bike. One note, another “advantage” of locking your elbows is that it allows you to support your body weight without any real muscular effort. When you bend your arms, some effort is required to prevent you from slamming your nose onto your bike’s stem (which is unpleasant, or so I’m told). This can be solved by either getting stronger arm muscles or by riding faster – the harder you push on the pedals, the less weight is supported by your arms.

If you want to learn more, Henk gives cycling clinics.

The glue

July 25, 2011

As you can deduct from my post about handlebar width, the real question should not be about bar width, but rather about the position of your arms. The two best pieces of advice I can give come courtesy of two great riders, both rather underestimated. In my story remembering Xavier Tondo, I talked about some riders being stars and some riders being the glue. These two guys are also the glue.

Aside from being great people to have “in the locker room”, I believe there is also something else about these types of athletes. They are observers. As students of human relations, they understand how to bring out the best of people. Oftentimes they keep the mood light when the pressure is on, sometimes they provide a much-needed kick in the butt, but always they have the betterment of the team in mind.

As observers, their study doesn’t stop with the human relations. Xavier and these two guys are also scolars of cycling technology, tactics and/or technique. You may have heard how Xavier worked in a bike shop for many years while he was a pro rider, because he loved the equipment (and he liked to help out a friend who owned the store).

As a result, these are the guys we can learn from. Never trust the advice of a supremely gifted athlete, for he has never had to study the game. Go to the one who always had to work his butt off, for you can be sure he has looked everywhere for the tiniest little edge to raise the game. You see the same in many other sports, the best football coaches were often mediocre players (Mourinho, Hiddink, etc) whereas the superstar players usually fail on the bench (Maradona, the entire Dutch national team of 1988 except for Frank de Boer).

Sorry, I got sidetracked. I’ll leave the two pointers for tomorrow.

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