6 Must-Have Tips For Tackling An Event Ride

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If you’re looking for a fun way to spice up your riding routine, you might consider signing up for an organized  event ride.

Organized rides, like gran fondos, fun rides, and charity events can be a good way to motivate you to ride more, help you meet other riders, and give you a goal to ride towards.

Earlier this year, we had the chance to participate in the organized ride of a lifetime: The Ronde van Vlaanderen Sportif. The Ronde van Vlaanderen is one of the most important bike races of the year, and the Sportif gives every day riders an opportunity to ride the route that the pro’s take.

The ride is tough, with long distances, cobbles, and some of the hardest climbs around.

It was one of the toughest rides we’ve ever done, but read on to find out how we prepared for it, and some tricks and tips for getting ready for your next ride.

1. Pick Your Ride

A simple Google search can help you find a ride you would like to do in your area. From challenging gran fondos (timed non-competitive rides) to local charity events, there are plenty to choose from, and most offer multiple distances for riders of different levels. Most do charge an entry fee or require you to raise donations, but don’t worry—it goes to a good cause and helps fund the ride for next year.

It’s important to pick one that suits your fitness and experience level though. Check the route map to see if there are any difficult hills or tough sections. Be realistic about what you can tackle.

For us, we knew we would need to deal with 4 cobbled sectors, 4 cobbled climbs (the Koppenberg, the Steenbeekdreijs, the Kwarmonte and the Paterberg), plus one ugly cobbled descent. This was a big part in our pre-ride training and equipment choices.

The addition of some tough climbs, like the Kanarieberg, influenced our training and equipment choices

The addition of some tough climbs, like the Kanarieberg, influenced our training and equipment choices

2. Train Up

Don’t be put off by the word training. Think of it more as getting out, riding your bike, and challenging yourself. Even charity rides or fun runs can be difficult if you’re not used to spending time on the bike. Prepare by riding several times a week, and slowly increasing the total distance ridden by 10-30% each week (depending on your fitness level). If you will have to tackle any hills, then introduce some gentle hill work into your riding routine (check out our article on climbing here). If you’re starting from scratch, you’ll want to start preparing 6-8 weeks before your event.

If you’ve never ridden with a group before, now is the time to start. You need to get the hang of the etiquette and nuances required to ride with a group before showing up on the start line. Try visiting your local Performance store and going on our Great Rides group rides to get some practice.

Before your ride, it's essential you get some practice riding with a group, so you can be safe and feel comfortable

Before your ride, it’s essential you get some practice riding with a group, so you can be safe and feel comfortable

When we were preparing for the Ronde Sportif, our biggest concern was the cobbles. We’re pretty experienced cyclists and decent climbers, so the distance and the hills didn’t worry us as much as riding on the unfamiliar cobbled roads with cyclists of varying skill levels. To prepare, we spent several afternoons on Flemish farm roads riding up and down the worst cobbles we could find until we learned the tricks to finding a line, negotiating the transition areas, and how to hold your body so you can ride and still see (the shaking from the cobbles can make it difficult to see where you’re going).

We spent several afternoons riding cobbled farm roads to get ready for the Sportif

We spent several afternoons riding cobbled farm roads to get ready for the Sportif

3. Tune It Up

As you do your preparation rides, pay attention to what feels good and what doesn’t. If you’re having chaffing or saddle sore issues, it may be time for a new pair of shorts or a different saddle (you might also try some chamois cream). If your back, neck or knees feel sore, you may need to address your bike fit (check out our article on addressing knee pain). Use this time to test out new equipment and fine tune everything. The last thing you want to do is throw a new piece of equipment on your bike right before the big ride.

The weekend before the ride, it might also be a good time to take your bike to your local Spin Doctor for a quick check and tune up.

We rode the Ronde Sportif on a pair of borrowed Ridley Heliums. Every evening, after the work day was done, we took the bikes out for a ride to fine tune the fit. It took 3-4 rides to get the saddle height, saddle fore/aft position, and bar height right. We carried tools with us during our rides, and would stop a few times during the ride to make a quick adjustment until it was dialed in perfectly. Check out our guide to fitting a road bike for more detailed instructions.

During our training rides, we stopped frequently to adjust saddle height, handlebar height, and more

During our training rides, we stopped frequently to adjust saddle height, handlebar height, and more

4. Gear Up

Make sure you have the right clothing, equipment and gearing for your ride. A good pair of cycling shorts, a jersey, packable jacket, repair tools and tubes, and food are all a must for every ride. If you ride clipless pedals, you may also want to check out how worn your cleats are. If there’s plastic hanging off them, might be time for some replacements. Depending on the course, you might also want to visit your local Performance shop to discuss gearing choices. If the route is very hilly, you might want to consider choosing a different cassette for the back.

Food is usually provided on organized rides, but you’ll want to make sure you have some emergency gels, chews and anything else you think you’ll need. Depending on the distance, you should aim to consume about 1 bottle of fluid and 100-200 calories of food every hour.

If you’re doing a long distance ride (62+ miles), you should bring all your own gels and hydration mixes. Even though stuff might be provided for free, it might not agree with your system. Stick with what you know to avoid GI distress that can derail a ride. Go ahead and eat any real food provided though—that stuff usually won’t affect you as much as some unknown gel or chew.

The Ultra SL shorts and Ultra jersey were the perfect tools for the job

The Ultra SL shorts and Ultra jersey (rider on right) were the perfect tools for the job

For the Ronde we chose to use the Ultra SL bib shorts and Ultra jersey. The chamois pad in the shorts and the features on the jersey were perfect for the weather conditions and cobbled roads. We also asked Ridley to adjust the gearing on our bikes. Normally we ride a 52/36 with an 11-25 cassette, but for the Ronde Sportif we opted for a compact 50/34 crankset with an 11-27 to make handling the steep hills (some in excess of 22%) and cobbles a little easier.

We fueled our ride with Skratch Labs Exercise hydration mix, Clif Shot gels, and the delicious, delicious stroop waffles that were provided.

Make sure you avail yourself of the rest stops, where food, drinks, and bathrooms are provided

Make sure you avail yourself of the rest stops, where food, drinks, and bathrooms are provided

5. The Day Before

There are five important things to do before every big ride:

  1. Make sure your stuff is ready the night before
  2. Eat a good dinner
    • Aim for plenty of carbs, some veggies, and lean protein. Good ideas are chicken fried rice, pasta with chicken or turkey meatballs, etc… Avoid heavy or greasy foods that can weigh you down and tax your system.
  3. Hydrate
    • Drink plenty of fluids the night before. Alternate 8 oz of water with 8 oz of fruit juice or some everyday hydration mix like Nuun or Skratch Labs every hour to top up electrolyte and water levels in your body. But remember, there’s a fine line between properly hydrating and overhydrating (which can be very dangerous). A good guideline is to drink as you feel thirsty and your urine is clear. If you reach a point where drinking more seems unpleasant, then stop—your body is telling you you’ve had enough. Avoid alcohol and caffeine.
  4. Sleep
    • Get to bed early, and aim to get at least 8-10 hours of sleep. You’ll wake up feeling better, and you’ll ride better too. Stay up all night playing poker, and this could be you.
  5. Breakfast
    • We know, the morning is going to be rushed. You’ve got to get dressed, pack up your stuff and your bike, drive or ride to the start line, get registered, etc… There’s a lot to do. So make it easy for yourself. The night before, make a breakfast like a bagel with some peanut butter and banana or some granola with yogurt. Make it something quick, with plenty of carbs and some protein. Things will not go well if you start the ride with an empty stomach.

Before the Ronde Sportif we did none of these, and paid for it the next day. We were out late on a photo shoot the night before, basically skipped dinner, went to bed late, woke up early with only about 5 hours of sleep, and ate a sad little hotel breakfast before hopping in the car. The result was that we didn’t ride our best, and took forever to really get going. After finally being forced to do a shorter distance than we hoped, we went back to the hotel and proceeded to feel terrible the rest of the day. Don’t make our mistake.

Thanks to a late night, no dinner, no sleep, and no breakfast, we were not exactly feeling our best the morning of the ride

Thanks to a late night, no dinner, no sleep, and no breakfast, we were not exactly feeling our best the morning of the ride

6. Recovery

Most of us don’t have a professional soigneur to massage us out at the end of a long day, but there are some things you can do to help yourself. Before you head out, it’s probably a good idea to pack a “recovery bag” to keep in the car, or some events let you check them at the start line.

Here’s what we put in ours for the Ronde Sportif:

To prevent soreness and make sure you adequately recover, you should eat a mix of carbs and protein within half an hour of finishing your ride so you can begin to replenish the glycogen in your muscles. We start by going with the Coke and stroop waffle to replenish blood sugar, then mixing and drinking down the Recovery drink to get protein and some more substantial nutrients.

Next we wrap up in the towel and use wipes to try and clean up as best we can, and then get dressed in our regular clothes. After we’re changed, we eat the chips and some water. We also always make sure to eat a meal of real food no more than 1 hour after finishing the ride, even if it’s just a turkey sandwich or something.

There are few better feelings than finishing a ride and enjoying a good meal

There are few better feelings than finishing a ride and enjoying a good meal

Did we miss anything? Let us know in the comments section.

Skratch Labs Neutral Human Support at the Amgen Tour of California

Who hasn’t dreamed of having a support staff to feed you before, during, and after every bike ride? Our friends at Skratch Labs have turned that dream into reality, at least at the AMGEN Tour of California! In what marks a first for the cycling world, Skratch Labs will be supporting the human element of racing as the Official Hydration and Real Food Sponsor of the AMGEN Tour of California.

Skratch Labs will be directing their efforts toward supporting the actual humans involved in the race (both riders and staff) by providing real food and hydration products throughout the weeklong event. During each road stage Skratch will have a support car and moto inside the caravan to distribute needed items to riders on every team.

Chef Biju and his team will be cooking up delicious and nutritious recipes from The Feed Zone Cookbook every day from their mobile kitchen – everything is all natural and made from scratch (of course).

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Tasty real food is cooked up daily for racers and support staff.

A Skratch Labs motorcycle and car will even deliver their healthy food options during the race. How would you like this nutrition delivery vehicle for your next ride?

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Skratch Labs Neutral Human Support moto

Because when guys are racing this hard, they need some real food to recover:

National Bike Month: Meet People for Bikes

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As you may know, May is National Bike Month. To help celebrate and get the word out, we’ve had an opportunity to interview key people from some of the America’s largest bike advocacy organizations.

This week we were fortunate enough to get a few minutes with Tim Blumenthal of PeopleForBikes and ask him a few questions about his organization. 

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1.What’s the goal of your organization? 

The goal of PeopleForBikes is to make bike riding better for all Americans and get more people biking more often.

2. What projects are you working on currently?

We group our work into two basic areas: 1) Building Better Places to Ride; and 2) Building Political Power. Both are national programs.

We run our Green Lane Project to improve bike infrastructure in cities and large towns. We focus on building protected bike lanes that are physically separated from fast-moving cars and trucks and make bicycling safer and more appealing for everyone–especially new riders, families and older Americans. We also improve bike infrastructure (lanes, paths, singletrack and bike parks) by awarding grants to support their development. We’ve invested $10 million during the last decade in projects like this, as well as the local, state and national groups that help make them happen.

We’re working to build political power to support better places to ride. We’re focused on growing the PeopleForBikes individual supporter base–bicycling’s grassroots army. We currently have 800,000 Americans on board and we’re determined to increase this number to a million or more during 2014. We are becoming a political force: as more people join PeopleForBikes (it’s free), we are developing serious clout! We need your help.

The other part of our political strategy is our grasstops engagement program. We call it the PeopleForBikes Business Network. First, we engage bike business leaders (as well as leaders of businesses outside the bike industry) to share the stories of the good jobs they support, and importance of solid bike infrastructure to their continuing success. Then, we engage other societal leaders—not only business owners, but pro athletes, celebrities, developers—to publicly support and advocate for bicycling of all kinds. Our grasstops program focuses on elected officials, but we want everyone in America to appreciate all the great things that happen when people ride bikes.

Protected bike lanes are a major initiative for PeopleForBikes

Protected bike lanes are a major initiative for PeopleForBikes

3. How can I make cycling better in my community?

The most important thing you can do to make the cycling experience better in your community is ride predictably and respectfully—both on and off road. Stop at traffic lights and at stop signs. Signal your turns. Use a light and rear reflector if you ride after dark. Alert others when you’re about to pass them. Second, pay attention to the bike-related decisions of your town, city and county governments.  If leaders step up to support a great project, send them a short note of thanks or leave a phone message. If they fall short, don’t be afraid to ask them to do better. Be specific. Get involved with your local or state advocacy group: they will guide your efforts.

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 4. How do you reach out to non-bike riders ?

We emphasize the benefits of bicycling to non-bike riders. For example, protected bike lanes in cities make traveling more predictable and safer for everyone—whether they’re driving, biking or walking. Bike paths, trails and lanes boost business—not only tourism, but often every-day sales at adjacent stores and restaurants, as people pedal by and (often) stop, as opposed to speeding through. Bike riding reduces road congestion and air pollution and improves health: everyone benefits from that.

PeopleForBikes has worked with municipalities all over the country to improve the visibility of bike riders

PeopleForBikes has worked with municipalities all over the country to improve the visibility of bike riders

At the end of the day, we believe that two things will make bicycling better for everyone: more places to ride that are safe, appealing, and close to home and work; and strong public support to create and maintain these places.

Ready for Spring: 13 Point Safety Checklist

While we originally wrote this post for breaking out the bike after a winter hiatus, we think that this advice is great to follow year-round, even if you’ve been riding for months! You’ll be amazed at what you find if you give your bike a thorough once-over – so what do you look for?

Just follow our 13 Point Inspection checklist.

If you need some reference for where to look for parts on your bike, check out our handy Anatomy of a Bike guide.

 

1. Inspect frame & fork for damage.

Look for cracks or frame separation. Gently lift your front tire off of the ground and let it drop.  Listen for noise (beyond the sound of the chain bouncing).

Lift the front wheel and let the front wheel drop to the floor. If the frame is damaged, you'll hear it

Lift the front wheel and let the front wheel drop to the floor. If the frame is damaged, you’ll hear it


2. Inspect racks, fenders, child seats & baskets.

Make sure all nuts and bolts are securely fastened.

3. Inspect rims and spokes for wear, damage and that the wheel is true

Look for loose or missing spokes (loose  spokes will rattle when moved with your fingers).
Spin the wheel to see if it rolls smoothly.  If not take it to a professional.

Squeeze the spokes together to see if any are loose

Squeeze the spokes together to see if any are loose


4. Inspect tires for cuts, wear & damage.

Check the tires for cracks, dry spots, visible tire threads, cuts, visible tire casing, or debris in the rubber.

Deflate the tire slightly so you can pull it from side to side to look for wear or cuts

Deflate the tire slightly so you can pull it from side to side to look for wear or cuts


5. Test brake levers and brakes are tight & secure.

Squeeze the brakes and move your bike.  If the brakes are working your bike wheels should not roll.

Squeeze the brake levers and try to push the bike forward

Squeeze the brake levers and try to push the bike forward


6. Test headset for correct adjustment.

Squeeze the brakes and move your bike back and forth.  Look to see if the fork rocks where it inserts into the frame.

Click here to see how to adjust your headset

Pull the brake levers, brace the front wheel between your legs, and pull on the handlebars. Check to see if the steerer tube rocks inside of the headtube

Pull the brake levers, brace the front wheel between your legs, and pull on the handlebars. Check to see if the steerer tube rocks inside of the headtube


7. Test seat and seatpost are tight & secure.

Try to twist the seat side to side.  It should not move.
Click here to see how to adjust your seatpost

Try to twist the saddle and see if it moves

Try to twist the saddle and see if it moves


8. Test handlebar, stem, and pedals are tight & secure.

Try to twist your handlebar, while holding the front wheel securely.  It should not move side to side or up and down.
Click here to see how to adjust your stem

Use an allen wrench to ensure all the bolts are properly tightened

Use an allen wrench to ensure all the bolts are properly tightened


 

Use a hex wrench or pedal wrench to ensure your pedals are tight

Use a hex wrench or pedal wrench to ensure your pedals are tight


9. Inspect cables & housing for cracks, kinks, rust or fraying.

Click here to see how to install new cables

Inspect the cables and housing for worn spots, rusting or fraying

Inspect the cables and housing for worn spots, rusting or fraying


10. Inspect brakes for correct adjustment.

Your brakes should squeeze the rim at the same time.  If not, go and visit your favorite mechanic.

11. Inspect brake pads for wear.

Use the wear indicator marks on the pad to determine if the pads are still in good use. If you don’t see any, you can pick up some replacements here.

Check the brake pads to see if they are past the wear point

Check the brake pads to see if they are past the wear point


12. Inspect derailleurs for correct adjustment.

Take your bike for a short test spin or put it in the workstand and try to shift gears. Look to see if your bike skips gears, won’t shift to the selected gear or makes a rattling, skipping sound.

Click here to see how to adjust your rear derailleur

If your derailleur isn't shifting correctly, adjust the cable tension using the barrel adjuster

If your derailleur isn’t shifting correctly, adjust the cable tension using the barrel adjuster


13. Inflate tires to sidewall pressure.

Tires have a range of tires pressures written on the side wall that is a useful guide.  You should pump up your tires before every ride.
Click here to see how to inflate your tires

Need some new tubes? Stock up here.

Most tire manufacturers stamp the recommended PSI on the sidewall

Most tire manufacturers stamp the recommended PSI on the sidewall

Everything check out okay? Go pedal! 

To find out what essentials you should bring on your next ride, check out our article here.

First Look: 2014 Charge Cooker SS 29er Mountain Bike

When we unboxed the Charge Cooker SS mountain bike, everyone had something to say.

Mostly, folks wanted to start customizing it right away. Here were some of the initial reactions:

  • I want to turn it into a monster bike with drop bars!
  • You’ve got to find some chrome grips and bits to match that frame finish.
  • I could totally ride that to work.
  • No horizontal drop outs? OH! It has an eccentric bottom bracket. Nice.
  • I could always use another mountain bike. Do you need that right now? Can I have it?

Clearly, everyone was excited about the possibilities that the Cooker SS presented, but at first blush, it had plenty to offer right out of the box.

About the Frame

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The 2014 Charge Cooker SS Mountain Bike

The first thing that we noticed was the matching frame and fork finish. The Tange steel-butted chromoly tubes feature a gorgeous, polished finish, an eccentric bottom bracket and stainless steel hardware. For some perspective, Tange steel is custom drawn and has a titanium-like feel: lively, comfortable and forgiving thanks to its road vibration dampening properties. It is formed using Tange’s 90 years of experience in manufacturing steel tubes. It has a high level of strength, responsiveness and stiffness. The Cooker SS fit, in conjuction with a more aggressive frame geometry and a wide, 9-degree sweptback flattop handlebar, translates into a body-forward, confident riding position to handle plenty of aggressive trail obstacles.

About the Drivetrain & Brakes

Charge chose versatile 32-tooth to 18-tooth cog gearing. The Truvativ E400 crankset features a chainguard for added chain security. It is easily customizable by adding your favorite 4-bolt ring or single-speed cog.

About Tires & Clearance

Like most 29ers today, the Cooker SS featured a set of hydraulic disc brakes with 180/160mm rotors. Given the lighter duties of a rigid single-speed bike, that is more power than will be required by most riders; a definite bonus in our minds.Finally, terrain can vary widely, depending on where you live, and where you love to ride. The Cooker SS comes with a great set of Maxxis Aspen tires. They are ideal for fast-and-furious trails, where low rolling resistance and less dig is required. However, if you prefer something beefier, the Cooker SS has plenty of tire clearance. Personally, we love the Forte Pisgah tires for their bite, durability and versatility.

Our Two Cents

In conclusion, if you’re in the market for an eye-catching single-speed 29er, the British designed 2014 Charge Cooker SS offers plenty of performance right out of the box, plus the ability to be customized to your hearts content.

Will Self-Driving Cars Be Good For Cyclists?

Google Self-Driving Car

Google Self-Driving car recognizes other road users, including cyclists.

In case you’ve missed it, tech giant Google has been working on computer controlled self-driving cars for a few years now, and, as you can see in the video below, they are closer to reality than you might think. Now we know what you’re thinking – this is all well and good for sharing the roads with other cars, but what about relatively small and less predictable cyclists and pedestrians? As cyclists we signal our intentions with hand signals or other gestures, and require much different speeds and distances to be passed safely.  Well, they’ve thought of all of that – their latest technology is smart enough to recognize the needs and behaviors of cyclists, and react accordingly. Check out the video for some of their latest test runs:

While this technology is still in its infancy, we’re excited about the possibilities. If they can work out all of the kinks, then the prospect of having computer-controlled self-driving cars is great news for cyclists. These cars will be programmed to follow the rules of the road without fail, and without distraction. A self-driving car won’t become impatient or take an unnecessary risk to pass, because it will know that a slight delay really won’t make a difference to the overall trip. Occupants of cars will be free to text away or play with the radio, while the car does all of the thinking for them to keep the roads safe for everyone to share and enjoy!

Wordless Wednesday

Mark jumping on a mountain bike

Performance Visits The Paterberg

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This is going to hurt. At over 22% in places and entirely cobbled, the Paterberg is one of the toughest climbs in cycling

Sadly, cycling’s heroic cobbled classics races are now over for the year. Always one of the high points of the season, we were very fortunate to get to see one live this year. While in Belgium, our hosts, Ridley Bicycles, generously arranged for us to to be able to see the Ronde van Vlaanderen from the slopes of the Paterberg– a once in a lifetime chance we won’t soon forget.

Flemish cartpet

Flemish carpet

While only paved and added to the Ronde in 1986, the Paterberg has already achieved legendary status in cycling. This small hill– only about 260 feet tall and rising innocuously out of the Flemish countryside– seems insignificant when compared to giants like the Alpe d’Huez or the Angliru, but the Paterberg is a small monster in its own right: blowing apart races, ripping apart chains, and sometimes forcing even the hardest of the hardmen to dismount and walk.

We climbed the Paterberg as part of the Ronde van Vlaanderen Cyclo ride the day before the actual pro race, and it was every bit as difficult as it looks. Rising steeply at a pitch of nearly 13% and at times maxing out at a leg searing gradient in excess of 20%, all of it cobbled, the Paterberg is truly in a class with few equals. The hill is a devil to climb, with a grade that makes your breath scrape in your lungs and cobbles that don’t lightly forgive the rider who loses his focus, but it offers unparalleled rewards. At the top, you find yourself in a broad meadow covered in tall, waving grasses. Looking out from the Paterberg’s summit you take in a vista of rolling Flemish farm country, often viewed under the shifting light from racing clouds. Sheep and cattle graze in lush green fields that have been farmed for thousands of years.

A view of the race is open to all...provided you get there early enough

A view of the race is open to all…provided you get there early enough

Climbed twice in the race’s finale, the Paterberg is often the scene of an attack that detonates the race and truly separates the weak from the strong. And seeing that the Paterberg’s second ascent is also the final climb before the finish, it’s definitely where we wanted to be to witness what’s frequently the race’s deciding move.

When we got to the Paterberg, it was like arriving in cycling heaven. In a pasture field alongside the narrow road, hundreds of Belgian, Dutch, British and French cycling fans milled around, watching a giant outdoor video screen, waiting for the race to come through. The Lion of Flanders, the iconic yellow flag with a black lion that has been a symbol of northern Belgium for centuries, was on display everywhere. Lotto-Belisol and Omega-Pharma-Quickstep supporters waved small flags, and everyone wore the cycling cap or jersey of their favorite team. Nearby, a small stand was set up to sell Jupiler beer—a staple of Belgian cycling events, and another to sell frites in wax paper cones. Small children wandered around waving multiple Flanders flags and chanting “Tommke! Tommke! Tommke!” (Tom Boonen, the hometown favorite).

These guys have probably been enjoying Jupiler and frites on the Paterberg since way back

These guys have probably been enjoying Jupiler and frites on the Paterberg since way back

We settled into a decent spot where we could see both the screen and still be close enough to the road to get a good spot when the race came through. We could always tell where it was by watching the hovering helicopters covering the race. The closer the race got, the more crowded the hill became and the more the energy built.

Belgium is a country with cycling close to its heart. It’s difficult to explain how deeply two wheels run in Belgian culture– but these guys grow up riding, spend their autumn watching ‘cross, and come out by the millions to watch the Ronde. By the time the women’s race came around, the crowd was already pretty fired up, and cheered loudly as the first riders charged up the hill. One of the last riders in the group, a rider from Estado de México-Faren Kuota, broke her chain and was forced to walk. The crowd began to chant “Give her a bike! Give her a bike!” as team car after team car drove past.

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Riders in the women’s race are cheered on up the Paterberg

Several hours later when the men’s race came by, the crowd was in full-on party mode. As Tom Boonen came charging in with a group including Fabian Cancellara, Peter Sagan and other favorites, the crowd rushed to the barricades, cheering for their hometown hero. The biggest show of support, though, was for a virtually unknown Cofidis domestique. His rear derailleur broke less than half way up the hill. With no team car in sight to get a new bike, he was forced to sit by the side of the road. By the time his car got to him, the rest of the peloton was far out of sight. At this point in the race, there would have been no shame in stopping. The Cofidis team was completely out of contention, and what remained was over an hour of brutal cobbled hills and roads with terrible headwinds, all of which he would have to ride alone. When his team car finally showed up, instead of getting inside he pulled a fresh bike off the roof, got back on and started pedaling. The crowd went nuts. Belgians love this kind of stuff. The guy who doesn’t give up, who keeps on going even when there’s no hope of winning.

The crowd loved this rider for not giving up, even when the race was lost

The crowd loved this rider for not giving up, even when the race was lost (he’s waiting for a new bike)

After watching Mr. Cofidis get to the top, everyone moved back into position at either the Jupiler tent or in front of the big TV screen. Shortly after the first run up the Paterberg, Boonen found himself flailing and out of contention. At this point crowd allegiances switched to everyone’s favorite adopted Belgian, Fabian Cancellara. This subtle but quick shift didn’t seem to particularly bother anyone, so we just rolled with it too. When the race came around to the Paterberg the second time, the crowd rushed to the rails to watch Cancellara and Sep Vanmarck duel it out on the climb, trying to chase down a breakaway, then immediately proceeded to ignore the rest of the peloton and  ran back to the video monitor.

In the closing kilometers, the crowd packed in tighter and tighter to watch. People cheered on their favorite riders in a cacophony languages, and the crowd took on a collective energy that felt almost overwhelming. It was without a doubt the most intense excitement we’ve ever felt during a bike race. In the final meters, as the race came down to a match sprint, the crowd roared and the tension built. When Cancellara finally edged out Greg Van Avermaet for the win, it felt like a wave finally broke over us, the tension released with a huge rush of cheers.

Fans of Swiss rider (and eventual winner) Fabian Cancellara were out in force

Fans of Swiss rider (and eventual winner) Fabian Cancellara were out in force

Walking back down to the car, we stepped over discarded paper Lion of Flanders flags, crushed Jupiler cans and lost Lotto-Belisol team caps. The dust from the race still hung heavy in the air over the cobbled roads. The people we passed seemed subdued, spent somehow from the excitement of watching the race. In the absence of the cheering crowds, the Flemish countryside seemed oddly quiet and empty. To watch  live and in person that we’d seen so many times on TV was an experience that would take us a long time to really full comprehend. The riders go so fast, and the race is so frenetic, that it’s not until long after the riders have passed that it sinks in what you’ve just seen. But it’s not something we’re ever likely to forget.

Ridden and Reviewed: The Ridley Helium

The Ridley Helium is a stiff, fast and lightweight bike designed for climbing

The Ridley Helium is a stiff, fast and lightweight bike designed for climbing

Lighter Than Air

The Ridley Helium is part of the lightweight line of Ridley bikes. While the Helium SL claims top honors in Ridley’s “superlight” category, the Helium is still one of the lightest production frames available, and in fact was the basis for what became the SL. This tried and true chassis has been ridden to victory by riders from several different Pro Tour teams, and after spending a few days on it, it’s easy to see how.

So exactly where does the Helium fit into Ridley’s lineup? Like all of Ridley’s other bikes, the Helium originally grew out of a request from Ridley’s pro riders, who needed a lightweight frame that would make climbing during difficult mountain stages easier. While the Fenix is Ridley’s “go everywhere, do everything” bike, and the Noah is designed to be an ultra-stiff aero-wonder for the sprinters, the Helium was designed to shave every possible gram for the climbers.

But this isn’t to say the bike is only at home in the mountains…

All of Ridley's bikes are tested on the cobbles to make sure they meet the brand's own durability standards

All of Ridley’s bikes are tested on the cobbles to make sure they meet the brand’s own durability standards

Beyond the Mountains

When we visited Ridley in Belgium a few weeks ago, among the bikes we were given to test out were a pair of Heliums. While they weren’t spec’ed exactly the same as the Performance models, we got a pretty fair sense for how the Helium rode, and for two of our testers, it came to be the bike of choice for the Tour of Flanders sportif (the others chose the Fenix).

 While Ridley may bill the Helium as a climbers bike built for the mountains, we actually found that the bike was more than at home on the cobbled roads of Flanders—a realization that was backed up by the fact that several of the Lotto-Belisol riders chose to ride the pro-level Helium SL for the actual Tour of Flanders. Thanks to its super-thin seat stays and more traditional rounded tubing, we found the ride to be plenty compliant for even the toughest cobbled sections we encountered.

Even our test bikes, which were built up with some super-stiff, low spoke count carbon wheels, seemed to have almost no problems dealing with the cobbled roads and descents found on the sportif. At no point did we feel we were bouncing off the rocks or getting bucked all over the road. Not that the ride was exactly silky, but the Helium had the chops to take the hits. But this isn’t to say the Helium is a noodle either—it was plenty stiff enough to deliver the goods come smash time on the Circuit Zolder, where it was right at home in a paceline involving a few pro’s, local hardmen and excitable juniors. The bike just felt fast, responsive and lively.

We were able to follow sprints, break-aways and surges with aplomb, and when we stood up to go for the gusto, the bike instantly responded with plenty of forward speed.

The Helium was right at home on the flat and fast Zolder track

The Helium was right at home on the flat and fast Zolder track

Climbers Delight

Despite it’s all-arounder abilities, we have to say that the bike did truly come into it’s own on the climbs. We started the day of the Tour of Flanders sportif feeling more than a little anxious about going up the Koppenberg, the Steenbeekdreijs, the Kwarmont and the Paterberg—all legendary cobbled hills with brutal gradients that can surpass 20%, but eventually we came to almost look forward to them.

We’re not the worst climbers in the world, after all we do live in North Carolina, but aboard the Helium we felt almost delusionally gifted—enough so to even try to challenge a Trek Factory Racing pro we happened upon on the Kwarmont (it didn’t end well for us). Making the turns into the climbs made us feel almost giddy, because you really do get the sensation of floating uphill. The bike is very light, but it’s more than that. The geometry, the fork rake, and the blend of both stiffer and more compliant carbon fibers all seem to function together in an almost unquantifiable way to just make climbing feel easier and more natural.

This isn’t to say we weren’t suffering on the Paterberg at the 22% pitch, but we rarely felt we had to resort to standing to make it up the hills. The bike seemed to work with us to make the going easier, and that’s something we can always appreciate.

The Ridley Helium helped make climbing even the Paterberg feel easier and more natural

The Ridley Helium helped make climbing even the Paterberg feel easier and more natural

A More In-Depth Look

After riding the Helium for a few days, we got a chance to talk with Dirk, the lead product manager at Ridley about what went into making the Helium, and out of that conversation came a true insight into what the Ridley brand is all about. The Helium is if nothing else a pragmatic machine, built to solve problems with substance instead of style and marketing.

Neither the Helium nor the pro-level Helium SL are anywhere close to the lightest production frames available, but that’s not something that Ridley is really interested in making. Ridley believes that behind most of those other super-lightweight frames is a directive from a brand’s marketing department, not an actual benefit to the consumer. To make a sub-700 gram frame isn’t difficult, but to make a sub-700 gram frame that can actually be ridden is.

With the Helium series, Ridley looked at how cyclists actually ride. Pro’s, amateurs, weekend warriors, everyone. Then they talked with pro mechanics, materials engineers, designers—basically anybody who would ever have to work one—about what they wanted to see in a lightweight bike. The consensus was clear: it didn’t matter if it was the lightest bike on the market if it couldn’t survive a full season, or transfer all your power into the pedals. Where they arrived at was a frame that was just a few grams heavier than the competition, but that would stand up to the abuse of racing, training and everyday riding like nothing else in its class. In fact, the frames ended up being so dependable that the Lotto-Belisol pro’s just ride off the shelf bikes, painted up in team colors.

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The Verdict

The Helium is just a flat out great bike. It has a ride feel that combines so many different aspects into one bike, which is a hard act to follow. Stiff enough to sprint, comfortable enough for the cobbles, and purpose-built for climbing, this bike comes pretty close to being the total package.

The bike definitely has a race-tuned geometry, so if you’re looking for something a little more relaxed you might want to look at the Fenix, but if you want a go-fast machine that performs as a true all-around high performance bike, then the Helium is the way to go.

Getting The Right One: A Guide to Kids Bikes

Everyone remembers the thrill of riding a bike for the first time

Everyone remembers the thrill of riding a bike for the first time

We all remember that joy of getting your first bike. The fun of riding with training wheels,  the abject terror of that first time you tried to ride on two wheels, and then finally the thrilling freedom of your world opening up when you learned to ride on two wheels. New Bike Day is still one of our favorite days, but nothing will ever compare to that very first time.

Learn more about how to teach your kid how to ride a bike.

If you’re thinking about getting your little guy or girl a bike this spring, we have several programs that can help make it easier. Performance Bicycle offers the Kids Bike Growth Guarantee - so even as your kid grows up, they’ll never outgrow their love of riding. We also offer our Spin Doctor bike build services, so  your child will never have to wait for the bike to be put together, and our Hide A Bike program ensures you won’t have to worry about where to keep it from prying little eyes. To learn more, visit your local Performance Bicycle shop.

If you’d like to learn more about buying a kid’s bike, we have a few resources that can guide you through the process.

Make sure you get the right size bike by following our Kids Bike Sizing Chart:

Using our kid's bike growth chart is a great way to make sure you pick the right sized bike

Our kid’s bike growth chart will help you pick the right sized bike.

Learn more about how to buy a kids bike.

Learn more about how to assemble a kids bike.

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