2014 Tour de France Guide

tour_2011_galibier_leaders

What It Is:

The Tour de France is considered the most prestigious bike race in the world. Over 100 years old, the race has been held every year, except during the World Wars. It is also considered to be the most difficult sporting event in the world. Even if you’re not particularly into racing or sports, it’s worth it to watch at least a few stages of The Tour every year (see below) to see the spectacle. There are few things in sports that can match the excitement of two riders battling it out on a high mountain pass or the drama of watching a lone rider try to hang on for a solo win. Despite past issues with doping and scandals, the sport has taken huge steps to clean up its act in recent years, and many say that the sport is now cleaner– and more exciting– than it ever has been in the past.

When:

The Tour de France will start on July 5th, 2014, and ends on July 27th, 2014.

Where:

The Tour will start in Leeds, England. After a few days of racing in the UK, the race will move to France. The final stage will be held in Paris with the traditional finish on the Champs-Elysees.

How Long:

The Tour de France is a 21 day race—with each day of racing called a “stage”. There are two rest days. The stages are divided between “flat” stages, “mountain stages”, and one day with a time trial.

tour_2010_soulor_peloton

The high mountain climbs are some of the most exciting parts of the race to watch

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Must Watch Stages:

Stage 1: Saturday, July 5. Watch as The Tour gets off to its start in Leeds, England. All the drama will be focused on Mark Cavendish, who will hope to win the opening stage and wear the yellow jersey for a day on home turf.

Stage 5: Wednesday, July 9. Paris-Roubaix it ain’t, but this stage will feature cobbled roads on the Tour de France for the first time since 2010. Given the difficulty of riding on cobbles, this could be where early favorites get into serious trouble. Expect drama, crashes, and some epic heartbreak. This could be the stage that makes (or unmakes) the race.

Stage 10: Monday, July 14. This is going to be one of the toughest days of mountains that the Tour has seen in quite a while. The route will tackle two Category 3 climbs on the way to the La Planche des Belles Filles—a series of seven Category 1 &2 climbs that average around 8%. There is a chance that the race could be effectively decided on these climbs for both the GC and KOM battles.

Stage 14: Saturday, July 19. This one is going to hurt. As The Tour turns towards the French Alps, the climbs only get worse. This stage will feature the famous hors categorie Col du Izoard climb. After getting up the Col du Lautaret—a 34km long climb, the riders must then tackle the Izoard (19km, average grade 6%). Anyone having a bad day here will be out of the running for the win.

Stage 18: Thursday, July 24. This stage is relatively short, so expect to see some high speed racing in the Pyrenees Mountains, including the infamous Col du Tourmalet—the legendary climb that should see an epic battle between Froome and Contador, as well as anyone else brave enough to try and hang with them.  4° stage Lorient  Mûr-de-Bretagne

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How It Works:

There are 5 prizes up for grabs in the Tour de France. The overall win, the points prize, the king of the mountains prize, the best young rider, and winning individual stages.

  • General Classification (GC, Yellow Jersey): This is the overall win for the race. The GC winner is the rider with the fastest overall time. The current winner of the race will wear a yellow jersey, which may change hands several times during the race.
  • Points (aka Sprinters Jersey): This is the award for the fastest sprinter in the race. The current points leader wears a green jersey. Unlike the GC contest, the points contest is awarded based on points. Each stage will feature an intermediate sprint in the middle, and a final sprint at the end. Points are awarded for the order in which riders cross.
  • King of the Mountains (aka KOM, Polka Dot Jersey): This goes to the fastest climber in the race. The current KOM leader wears a white and red polka dot jersey. Like the points jersey, the KOM award is based on points. Points are awarded based on the order in which riders make it up categorized climbs (mountains classified as: 5 (easiest), 4, 3, 2, 1, hors categorie (hardest), with the most points awarded for hors categorie finishes).
  • Young Rider: This award goes to the fastest rider under the age of twenty-five. The current leader wears a white jersey. The white jersey is awarded to the under-25 rider with the fastest time.
  • Stage Wins: Many teams will choose to forgo racing for the GC win and instead choose to win individual stages of the race. This is often seen as more prestigious than winning the green, polka dot, or white jersey. Teams may choose to adopt the strategy of “stage hunting” if they have no rider capable of genuinely challenging for the GC win, or to get more attention for the team and their sponsors.
fuji_visit_philly_race_netapp_16

Netapp-Endura (who ride Fuji bikes) are making their Tour de France debut, and are hoping to do something big to mark the occasion

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Riders To Watch

GC Contenders:

Chris Froome (Kenya; 2013 winner)—Team Sky

Alberto Contador (Spain; sort-of kind-of former winner?)—Tinkoff-Saxo

Vincenzo Nibali (Italy)– Astana

Alejandro Valverde (Spain)—Movistar

Outside Contenders:

Tejay Van Garderen (USA)—BMC

Andrew Talanksy (USA)—Garmin Sharp

Romain Bardet (France)—AG2r-La Mondiale

Rui Costa (Portugal; current World Champion)—Lampre-Merida

Jurgen Van Den Broeck (Belgium)—Lotto-Belisol

Points:

Peter Sagan (Slovakia;  2012, 2013 points winner)—Cannondale

Mark Canvendish (UK; 2011 points winner)—Omega-Pharma-Quick Step

Marcel Kittel (Germany)—Giant-

Shimano Andre Greipel (Germany)—Lotto-Belisol

KOM:

Joachim Rodriguez (Spain)—Katusha

Pierre Rolland (France)—Europcar

Mikel Nieve (Spain)—Team Sky

Christophe Riblon (France)—AG2r-La Mondiale

Young Rider:

Andrew Talanksy (USA)—Garmin Sharp

Romain Bardet (France)—AG2r-La Mondiale

Michal Kwiatkowski (Poland)—Omega-Pharma-Quick Step

Tejay Van Garderen (USA; 2012 young rider winner) —BMC

Lotto Belisol Skoda team car

Riders are supported by team cars, who supply everything from drinks and snacks to spare wheels,new bikes, and mechanical help

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Teams:

The Tour de France will be contested by 22 teams. Each team will usually consist of a GC rider—usually the best all-around rider on the team—who will in theory try to win the entire Tour, though really only a few riders are capable of doing this. He is supported by eight “domestiques”, who will allow the GC rider to draft off of them, keep him away from dangerous riders, get him water and food, and even surrender their bikes or wheels if needed. Teams may also feature sprinters, climbers, rolleurs, and other types of riders who may try to contest for individual stage wins in the sprints or the mountains, if their team decides they no longer need to support their GC rider on that day. The teams for the 2014 Tour de France are:

  • AG2r-La Mondiale (France)            Leader: Romain Bardet (France)
  • Astana (Kazakhstan)                            Leader: Vincenzo Nibali (Italy)
  • Belkin Cycling (Netherlands)        Leader: Bauke Mollema (Netherlands)
  • BMC Racing (USA)                                  Leader: Tejay Van Garderen (USA)
  • Cannondale (Italy)                                Leader: Peter Sagan (Slovakia)
  • FDJ.FR (France)                                       Leader: Thibau Pinot (France)
  • Garmin Sharp (USA)                             Leader: Andrew Talansky (USA)
  • IAM Cycling (Switzerland)              Leader: Sylvan Chavanel (France)
  • Katusha (Russian Federation)      Leader: Joachim Rodriguez (Spain)
  • Lampre-Merida (Italy)                       Leader: Rui Costa (Portugal)
  • Lotto-Belisol (Belgium)                     Leader: Jurgen Van Den Broeck (Belgium)
  • Movistar Team (Spain)                       Leader: Alejandro Valverde (Spain)
  • Omega-Pharma-Quick Step (Netherlands) Leader: Mark Cavendish (UK)
  • Orica Greenedge (Australia)           Leader: Simon Gerrans (Australia)
  • Team Sky (United Kingdom)          Leader: Chris Froome (Kenya)
  • Giant Shimano (Netherlands)       Leader: Marcel Kittel (Germany)
  • Europcar (France)                                 Leader: Pierre Rolland (France)
  • Tinkoff-Saxo (Russian Federation) Leader: Alberto Contador (Spain)
  • Trek Factory Racing (USA)             Leader: Fabian Cancellara (Switzerland)
  • Cofidis (France)                                      Leader: Rein Taaramäe (Latvia)
  • Bretagne Seche Environment (France) Leader: Brice Feillu (France)
  • Netapp-Endura (Germany)            Leader: Leopold Koenig (Czech Republic)

 

Keep an eye out for this legendary fan...

Keep an eye out for this legendary fan…

Throw Down: Lycra or No Lycra

To wear or not to wear, that is the question. Few things seem to divide cycling tribes quite as much as lycra clothing. While for some, a pair of padded bike shorts and a zip up jersey are necessities, for others they are an eye sore that carries certain connotations with it. To be certain, lycra isn’t for everyone—and choosing to wear it or not to wear it is a personal choice.

As with most debates, neither side is right or wrong, necessarily. For the sake of argument though, let’s take a look at some of the pro’s and con’s of lycra.

Lycra is something most riders find a lot of benefit in...but not everyone

Lycra is something most riders find a lot of benefit in…but not everyone

Pro’s:

  • Super Comfortable: There’s no two ways about it, properly fitting lycra shorts and a good jersey are some of the most comfortable clothing you’ll ever wear
  • Feeling Fast: Wearing lycra can make you feel fast, no matter what the reality might be
  • Cushioning: Finding the right pair of padded bike shorts can be a revelation in comfort. The pad helps take the sting out of long days in the saddle, and when you find the brand of shorts that work for you, you’ll never want to ride without them
  • Staying cooler: most cycling clothing now is designed to wick away sweat and is made with fabrics that help you stay cooler
  • More Aero: Wearing cycling jerseys can really cut down on wind drag, since even a club fit jersey will fit more closely than a t-shirt. This might not seem important to the everyday cyclist, but it actually does make a huge difference
  • Part Of The Club: Let’s face it, in certain cycling circles—we’re looking at you roadies—it’s just expected that you’ll wear it
Lycra can make a big day in the saddle a lot easier

Lycra can make a big day in the saddle a lot easier

Con’s:

  • The Confidence Factor: It takes a certain amount of confidence to wear lycra in public, and some people don’t feel comfortable in it
  • Limited Wear Occasions: In lycra, it’s not like you can just step off the bike and go sit at your desk at the start of the work day
  • What It Means: For many, lycra has become a symbol of exclusivity and elitism in the cycling community, and some see the perceived requirement of wearing lycra as an obstacle to getting more people on bikes
For many riders, especially in urban areas, lycra isn't as important

For many riders, especially in urban areas, lycra isn’t as important

A Personal Choice

At the end of the day riding a bike should be fun, regardless of what clothing you choose to wear while doing it. If you do choose to wear lycra, it doesn’t mean you have to limit yourself to the body-hugging race-fit stuff you see on TV. There are many different fit levels available, from straight up t-shirts made of technical fabrics to roomier “club fit” clothing that isn’t as form fitting. And nobody says (well…some people do) that you can’t wear mountain bike baggies on the road if you want to.

And if you choose not to wear lycra, that’s ok too. It’s not for everyone. There are plenty of other clothing options out there that offer bike-friendly features in more casual clothing. Jeans and shirts from Club Ride, Zoic, Performance, and others offer features like reinforced seats, articulated knees, and specially designed pockets to facilitate your non-lycra bike life.

Types of Riders and Their Relationship to Lycra:

The Roadie:

Lycra Love: 10/10

Perhaps no other cycling clan takes their super hero costumes so seriously as the serious road rider. This is usually the guy who shaves his legs and has a bike more expensive than his car. Just wearing lycra isn’t enough. It has to be worn well. Usually the shorts and jersey (collectively called a “kit”) must match in color and brand, and will preferably be a matching set. Wearing pro team clothing when not paid to do so is highly discouraged in this circle, though wearing one’s club kit is acceptable. The kit will usually be color coordinated with the helmet, socks, shoes, gloves, and for the truly dedicated, the bike. Additional rules regarding sock height, short length, and jersey fit may apply.

These roadies find the lunch ride is perfect for matching Performance Ultra kits. Zach gets bonus points for matching socks and helmet

These roadies find the lunch ride is perfect for matching Performance Ultra kits. Zach recieved bonus points for color coordinating his socks and helmet

The Weekend Warrior:

Lycra Love: 7/10

The Weekend Warrior takes a more casual approach to lycra. Sure, they might like things to match, and who doesn’t like some cool socks? But the important thing is comfort and functionality. Shorts add comfort on a long weekend ride, and the jersey provides plenty of cooling and pocket storage as they rack up the miles. It’s not necessarily about fitting in or looking “pro”, so much as it is recognizing the benefits that lycra offers on long, high mileage rides. Lycra clothing is a functional item, but having mismatched kit won’t get in the way of enjoying the ride.

For many riders, wearing lycra is more about comfort and functionality than anything

For many riders, wearing lycra is more about comfort and functionality than anything

The Urban Rider:

Lycra Love: 0/10

Lycra is usually anathema to the urban rider, and not without practical reasons. The urban rider uses the bike primarily for transportation and getting around—which means they ride their bike to get somewhere. While they may wear bike specific clothing, it’s usually more along the lines of Club Ride, which incorporates bike-friendly features into everyday clothing. Urban riders usually also view the association of lycra with bikes as an impediment to getting more people on bikes—a thought that might not necessarily be wrong.

For many riders, cycling clothes don't have to be skin tight, thanks to more casual-- yet functional-- options

For many riders, cycling clothes don’t have to be skin tight, thanks to more casual– yet functional– options

The Mountain Biker:

Lycra Love: 5/10

Ah…the sneaky lycra wearer. While most mountain bikers may outwardly deride road bikers for wearing lycra, the truth is that most mountain bikers secretly wear it. Sure, they might look super casual in their technical t-shirts and baggy shorts, but underneath it all is a pair of padded lycra shorts. And in truth, lately some XC riders have even dispensed with the pretense and started emulating their road biking cousins.

Don't be fooled...underneath those baggy shorts are some padded lycra shorts

Don’t be fooled…underneath those baggy shorts are some padded lycra shorts

If you’re looking for a new suit of clothes, check out our reviews of some of our favorite kits here:

Ridden and Reviewed: Sugoi Ice RP Jersey and Bib Shorts

Ridden and Reviewed: Performance Ultra SL Jersey and Bib Shorts

To learn more about what to look for in a pair of shorts or a jersey, check out our buyer’s guides below:

Learn more about cycling shorts

Learn more about cycling jerseys

Team NetApp Endura Visits Fuji’s Home Office

A few weeks ago we were lucky enough to visit the biggest one day bike race in the US, the Philly Cycling Classic, thanks to an invite from our friends at Fuji Bikes. We had a great time checking out the excitement of the race (especially the finish up the famed Manayunk Wall), but the highlight of the trip was a chance to visit the home office of Fuji Bikes (and their sister brands in the Advanced Sports International or ASI family: Kestrel, Breezer and SE Bikes) with the members of the NetApp team, after the race.

Members of Team NetApp posed for a photo with the Fuji Bikes team

Members of Team NetApp posed for a photo with the Fuji Bikes team, including CEO Pat Cunnane (on the right)

ASI moved to their current headquarters in northern Philadelphia, from New Jersey, in 2004 so that they could triple the size of their warehouse.We followed along as the members of Team NetApp got a chance to meet everyone at the ASI offices, especially the bike design team. We learned more about the product development process, from assessing the market and looking at past sales, to talking to customers, attending trade shows, talking to dealers – even reading every bicycle magazine and good old-fashioned research on the internet. It’s definitely an in-depth process! Just the design process for a new bike can take over a year, and it’s not uncommon for a bike to go from concept to delivery to market in 18 months to 2 years.

We also got to learn more about the ASI/Fuji culture – needless to say they are really into bikes! There is a full Fuji demo fleet in their warehouse so that any employee can check out any type of bike for a month. Even though they are located in Philadelphia, they’re also building a full cyclocross course on the grounds near their warehouse, along with some mountain bike trails. And remember the Norcom Straight triathlon/time trial bike? Norcom Road is a favorite stretch of test road just a short ride from their offices. Fuji is also a huge presence in the local cycling community, with one of their main focuses being the Cadence Cycling Foundation – a group that engages youth through the sport of cycling to help them grow into healthy, responsible, and confident adults.

One of the highlights of the tour was the chance for everyone at ASI to have lunch and chat with the members of the NetApp team, all-rounder Blaz Jarc from Slovenia, classics rider Ralf Matzka from Germany, Jonathan McEvoy from the UK (11th place finisher in Philly),  all-rounder Erick Rowsell from the UK, mountain specialist Frantisek Padour from the Czech Republic (who finished 12th in Philly), and Director Sportif Christian Pomer from Austria (a former pro cyclist himself). Fuji associates got the chance to pepper the members of Team NetApp with questions.

They described their Altamira racing bikes as a good quality all-around bike – light, stiff, and with good handling. The hardest race they’d ever done? Without a doubt, Paris Roubaix – they made it to the end, but the Arenberg cobble section was just super hard, since you go straight into it at a really high speed. They also compared Philly Cycling Classic to Europe and said that it was a different style. At Philly the racing was a lot more aggressive, and they were always fighting for position as it never settled down. In Europe, the racing starts hard, but then a break goes, it settles down, and it only gets really hard again at the end. But they loved the atmosphere on the Manayunk Wall (where they may, or may not, have received beer handups at the end of the race).

The team even talked a bit about how they got started in bike racing – most started in their early teens riding for development programs. In England, their academy system finds kids in grade schools and progresses them through their national Olympic training program – they were full time riders from an early age, but not pro until a few years ago.  They also spoke about the stagiare program – wherein a professional team takes on ‘cycling interns’ starting in August. Young riders are released from their U23 team and get what amounts to a try out for a pro team, for free. It’s a big step up from the lower level, and the riders are under a huge amount of pressure to make a good impression in a few months. They even spoke about what they do in their off time – other than ride bikes, they just like to take a few weeks off the bike and not think about racing at all!

It was a great visit with the ASI/Fuji team, and with Team NetApp – we’re excited to cheer for the team as they compete in the Tour de France in July! To get a little sense of what pro racing is like from inside the peloton, check out this video we put together from the Manayunk Wall at the Philly Cycling Classic:

2014 Philly Cycling Classic with Fuji – Riding the Manayunk Wall

In the first weekend of June we were lucky enough to get an invitation from our friends at Fuji Bikes to check out the Philly Cycling Classic in their hometown of Philadelphia, PA. Although this race has changed names a few times over the years, it’s remained one of the richest and most prestigious one day races outside of Europe. Beyond the world-class international field, and high caliber bike racing, the Philly Cycling Classic also brings a party atmosphere for the communities of Philadelphia along the 12 mile route from Manayunk to Fairmount Park. With a ride open to the public, then a professional women’s race, and then the pro men’s race all taking place on the same day, it’s a smorgasbord of cycling fun that should be on your agenda at least once in the future – plus Fuji puts on a great house party at the top of the wall, just past the finish line!

CLIMBING THE MANAYUNK WALL

If there is one feature that defines the lore of the Philly Cycling Classic, it’s got to be the fearsome Manayunk Wall. It’s one of those climbs where the numbers don’t really do it justice – it’s a little over half mile long, with a average grade of 8%, and an ascent of 226 feet. No problem right? Well, that’s what it feels like after you turn on Levering Street and then make a quick right on to Cresson Street, then turn left back on to Levering Street and face the Wall proper.

Turning on to Cresson Street at the base of the Wall

Turning on to Cresson Street at the base of the Wall

When you first see the Wall itself, you are feeling good, the cranks are turning over fast, and you start to think that this whole Manayunk Wall reputation is overrated. Sure, it’s a hill, but you’re still flying up in the big ring.

Heading up Levering Street - the bottom of the Wall

Heading up Levering Street – the bottom of the Wall

But about halfway up it hits you – this isn’t getting any easier! The street starts tipping up to 18% and you start shifting to an easier gear, and then shifting again. Once you make the slight left onto Lyceum Avenue, you start to understand why they call this the Wall. It feels like you are in a canyon, with a rock wall on one side and houses on the other, and there is nothing to do but keep pedaling until you get to the top.

The Wall gets really steep on Lyceum Avenue

The Wall gets really steep on Lyceum Avenue

The steep section doesn’t last long, but it seems like it takes forever. As Lyceum Avenue straightens out, the grade starts to relent and you can put your head down and churn out the last few hundred feet to the top. This is where the strongest riders can put in their final attack – but for most of us it’s just a matter of surviving.

The slog to the top up Lyceum Avenue

The long slog to the top up Lyceum Avenue

Finally you make it to the top and the right turn on to Pechin Street – the fall from the Wall. It’s all downhill from here – but did that climb only take 3 minutes (the record is just under 2)? Now remember, you just climbed the Manayunk Wall only one time – the pro men have to climb it 10 times!

The top of the Wall, turning on to Pechin Street

The top of the Wall, turning on to Pechin Street

PHILLY CYCLING CLASSIC COURSE

The route of the Philly Cycling Classic has changed over the years, but its current incarnation is as a 12 mile circuit course that connects the communities of Manayunk, East Falls and Fairmount Park. It races through neighborhoods, past restaurants, and along the scenic Schuylkill River via Kelly Drive. The course is bookended by Lemon Hill at the far end, and of course the Manayunk Wall at the other. One of the major changes to the race was to make the finish line right at the top of the Manayunk Wall – creating a finish line atmosphere not unlike a Spring Classic in Europe. Another change in the Philly Cycling Classic this year – the prize money is split evenly between the men’s and women’s fields! They both ride the same course, so they both have the chance to earn the same cash!

FANS OF MANAYUNK

Of course no race would be complete without fans to cheer on the riders and create a party atmosphere. While there were crowds all along the entire route of the Philly Cycling Classic, the biggest and loudest spectating spots were Lemon Hill and the Manayunk Wall. And it is Manayunk that has acquired almost mythic notoriety over the years – there are tales of epic house parties with live house bands and a hundred thousand people packed in to a half mile of Philadelphia rowhouses. While the atmosphere and crowds are more mellow these days (no doubt thanks to the overwhelming, but very polite, police presence), it’s still a great crowd many thousands strong that is not shy about getting loud when the race comes flying by. We may even have spotteed a few beer hand-ups for riders who were going to drop out of the race a few laps early, their jobs done for the day (don’t tell the UCI).

FUJI’S BIGGEST PARTY OF THE YEAR

We would also like to say thanks to Fuji for hosting us during the race weekend – since this is their hometown event, they put on a great party and cookout at the top of the Manayunk Wall. With nearly endless supplies of food and drink, and ample bike parking – the Fuji party was the place to be on race day! Even the Mayor of Philadelphia, Michael Nutter, dropped by and hung out for a few hours!

Check out our race day photo gallery on Facebook.

Helmets: To Wear or Not To Wear?

Two approaches to riding a bike: helmeted and helmetless

At the risk of setting the internet on fire, this is an article about wearing helmets. We’ve seen a few articles lately that seem to have reignited this timeless debate, and thought we’d jump into the fray.

Before you get all fired up, know a few things

  • We believe in the studies that show helmets save lives, and always wear one when we ride
  • This author personally had his life saved, or at least avoided having to relearn the alphabet, by wearing a helmet
  • We haven’t always been stringent helmet wearers, and spent years going lidless (in fact the day I had my accident was almost a lucky chance, at the last minute I completely randomly decided to grab my helmet for my ride to the grocery store)
  • Ultimately the choice whether or not to wear one is up to you

Like politics, helmet wearing tends to be super divisive. The two most vocal camps (though maybe not the most numerous) tend to be:

  1. Helmets are totally unnecessary for the everyday cyclist, and just make cycling seem more unappealing
  2. Helmets offer critical protection, and should be mandatory for everyone.

But in the middle are a huge number of riders who just go out and ride their bikes, do what they do, and don’t really get too worked up about stuff like this.

But for the sake of argument, let’s break down the two opposing views:

 Anti-Helmet:

This mom and daughter in Hasselt, Belgium are just going about their business-- no helmets needed

This mom and daughter in Hasselt, Belgium are just going about their business– no helmets needed

This camp tends to be more the urban/transportation type of rider, who usually bikes at slower speeds, and in slower moving traffic. To these riders, the helmet is simply an impediment to getting people on bikes. There are some valid arguments to be made here, including studies that show that mandatory helmet laws decrease participation, which actually makes riding more dangerous since there are fewer bikes on the road. Others dislike them because they think it makes cycling seem excessively dangerous, or that they do little to prevent injury. These are also valid points—most cyclists will never need the protection a helmet provides, and in the event of an accident, there really is only so much a helmet can do.

Let’s look at some other positives here:

  • Your hair will always look fantastic (unless it’s windy)
  • It’s one less thing to worry about buying
  • Riding helmetless feels more relaxing
  • You won’t get as hot when you ride
Helmet or no, we kind of hope we look like this guy on a bike when we're older. Major steez, for sure

Helmet or no, we kind of hope we look like this guy on a bike when we’re older. Major steez.

Another point that is often cited is that helmet use is relatively uncommon in other industrialized countries, such as in Europe.

When we were in Belgium a few weeks ago, we saw countless people on bicycles in the city going about their commuting and errand-running business without helmets…similar to what we have seen when we’ve visited and ridden in Norway, Denmark, France and Italy (although in all those places we always noticed road and MTB riders wearing helmets). And before you get up in arms about better infrastructure, allow us to say that riding in a city in Europe, even ones with protected bike lanes, can often be more terrifying than riding along a divided highway in the U.S. The roads are tiny, the drivers are unpredictable, and the traffic patterns are utterly incomprehensible. If a car can fit somewhere, then that’s where that car is going—pedestrians, cyclists and legally-binding signage or not.

The point is that people choose to ride bikes, and don’t worry too much about the details.

Couple just out for a ride on a rare warm Belgian evening

Couple just out for a ride on a rare warm Belgian evening

Pro Helmet:

For many, wearing a helmet is a basic safety precaution

For many, wearing a helmet is a basic safety precaution

For others riders, the helmet is a necessary safety precaution, and one that they wouldn’t leave the house without, akin to wearing a seatbelt. Personally, this is the camp we fall into. We freely admit that if you’re struck by one ton of metal at 35mph, there’s only so much some foam and plastic can do, but that simple barrier can, and often does, mean the difference between a traumatic brain injury and a mild headache—as it did for us.

Study after study has shown that helmets can and do reduce the risk of both minor and serious head injury. Many take the view that there is little to be gained and much to be lost by not wearing a helmet. You only get one brain, and the brain is the only part of the body that can’t repair itself, so you better protect it.

Study after study has shown that helmets save lives and can prevent more serious injuries

Study after study has shown that helmets save lives and can prevent more serious injuries

The counter argument to the European philosophy is that you have to be realistic. We might all work toward and strive for that hopefully-near future when North American roads and politics will permit two-wheeled travel the way that some European cities do, but in the here-and-now that is simply not the case, and wishing will not make it so. Drivers here are inattentive, in many communities it’s still uncommon to see people using bicycles for transportation or recreation, and in many cities the roads were simply not designed for pedestrian or bicycle travel. Cycling on many American roads can be dangerous, and while you can’t live in fear, it’s best to take reasonable precautions.

Anecdotally, I was struck by a car in Chicago in a 25mph zone. While this might not seem fast, try riding 25mph on your bicycle and it sure seems fast enough. Even at that slow speed, with an oblique strike, it was powerful enough to throw me to the ground, break my collar bone in two places, fracture my scapula, and smash my helmet. At the ER I was told, verbatim, by the doctor holding my destroyed helmet: “if you hadn’t been wearing this, you would probably be upstairs in intensive care and we’d be calling your family”.

We won’t go so far as to advocate for mandatory helmet laws—at some point personal choice and personal responsibility become factors—but to us wearing a helmet is a smart personal choice.

Every year more and more styles of non-technical helmets become available

Every year more and more styles of non-technical helmets become available

So now that we’ve examined—at least in cursory detail—both sides of the argument, let’s hear your thoughts.

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.

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