March 7, 2012 17 Comments
January 6, 2012 2 Comments
The title of this post may be looking ahead to 2012, but it seems like we should start by looking back at 2011. It was a busy year around the world of cycling, and the same was true for us here at Performance Bicycle. We opened 11 new stores across the country, from Michigan to Texas to California to Illinois to Indiana to Georgia to Idaho, bringing our grand total of stores to over 100!
We’ve been busy here on the Blog as well, bringing you our always different Wordless Wednesday posts, our informative Spin Doctor Tech Tips, plus our coverage of interesting events like Jeremiah Bishop’s Alpine Loop Gran Fondo, racing with our coworkers at the Burn 24 Hour Challenge mountain bike race, and getting to see a small race in France that you might have heard of (we’ll give you a hint, it involved some pretty cool scenery).
We’ve also had a great time giving away some great prizes, through our website and over on our Facebook page, including some lucky Ride Like a Pro SRAM winners, and of course our Scattante Americano Giveaway over the Fourth of July.
We always enjoy watching the professionals do their thing every year, and 2011 didn’t disappoint in that regard. The folks over at Bicycling magazine put together a great slideshow of pro cycling highlights from 2011, from the season-long dominance of Phillipe Gilbert, to Alberto Contador’s win in the Giro d’Italia, to the drama of Cadel Evans’ first Tour de France win, to Juan Jose Cobo’s Vuelta a Espana triumph (aboard a Fuji Altamira):
We also loved finding and sharing all manner of cycling videos, from ones that inspired:
To ones that involved crazy German mountain bikers:
To ones about the incomparable Chris Akrigg:
Or the equally awesome Danny Macaskill:
To a postman living his dream of riding with the Pros:
To a mountain biker losing a battle with a hartebeest:
Basically, we just loved all things cycling!
So what are we looking forward to in 2012? More and better things, of course! We’ve got new store openings planned, a fantastic lineup of new gear and new bikes (seriously, there are some awesome bikes we can’t wait to show you), more cycling events to cover, and fun giveaways and prizes to share. Plus it’s our 30th Anniversary, so that’s a pretty big deal (and it should be easy to find “pearl” cycling gifts)! Performance Bicycle was started in Garry Snook’s basement here in Chapel Hill, NC in 1982!
September 29, 2011 6 Comments
Well, we were warned that Jeremiah Bishop’s Alpine Loop Gran Fondo was “the most challenging and adventurous Gran Fondo in the United States”, and we can now safely say that it was definitely the hardest road ride that this author has ever been on! Right from the start we (that’s David and Chris, from our headquarters) could tell that we were in for an epic day in the countryside around Harrisonburg, VA. But let’s begin at the beginning, as they say.
We started our adventure loading up the car in the rain, which we have a knack for finding whenever we head out. We drove up to Harrisonburg the night before the big ride to attend the gala dinner, where we got the chance to meet some of our fellow gran fondo riders, and even chat with Jeremiah Bishop himself. As he was all weekend, Jeremiah was approachable and excited to talk cycling – we talked about his experience riding in the pre-Olympic mountain bike test race (the course is harder than it looks) and he even talked a little smack about the upcoming Pisgah Mountain Bike Stage Race (where he’s the 2-time defending champ). But mainly we talked about the route for the Gran Fondo – the route was designed by Jeremiah to be the most challenging training ride for himself and his friends that he could devise. He scoured Google Earth to find back roads, country lanes, wicked climbs and amazing views. He promised us that the route would make us think that we had been transported to the Alps, while also testing our limits to the fullest. When a guy with Jeremiah’s record tells you that a ride is going to be hard, you tend to believe him.
The next day we were up early to get to the start in downtown Harrisonburg, VA. Greeting us was a crowd of almost 300 like-minded riders, ready to enjoy a slightly overcast day out on the road. Here we are kitted out in our Scattante Team jerseys and Forza bib shorts. We had updated our respective Scattante and Fuji road bikes with brand new Kenda Kriterium Endurance 700x25c tires, built to handle rugged roads with their puncture-resistant Iron Cloak protection (inflated to 95 psi, per Jeremiah’s advice).
With the blowing of an alpine horn, we rolled out of town to start our long day in the saddle. Everyone started their respective route on the same road, in one big peloton (there were also shorter Medio and Piccolo route options). Jeremiah circulated throughout the pack, making sure that everyone was having a good time.
But after a convivial few miles at an easy pace, Jeremiah moved to the front and put the pedal down right before the first King of the Mountain climb (award jerseys were determined by your time on 2 pre-selected climbs, not on your overall time). The field quickly strung out over the 4 miles to the top of the Shenandoah, and we settled in to a pace we could maintain for the 70 miles we still had to ride. Of course the long climb up meant that a fantastic descent awaited us on the other side. We flew down the mountain to rural West Virginia roads, where the first rest stop awaited us. Fully stocked with tasty treats and friendly volunteers, you really could get used to this treatment! But we’re here to talk about the ride, so we’ll move along – to the dreaded first dirt road climb!
Photos can’t do this monster justice – it was super steep and just slick enough that you couldn’t stand up without your rear tire spinning out. Sometimes it felt like you were about to topple over backwards, and we saw more than one person walking with their bike. It made us think of what the earliest Tour de France riders must have faced, such as Octave Lapize in his assault on the dirt roads of the Tourmalet in 1910 (thankfully we had more than 2 gears)! Once over the top, it was time for the equally challenging dirt road descent to the valley below.
After this road, the ride was more of a blur, but in a good way. Our legs were toast, but the riding was fantastic – we rode through valleys, down deserted country roads, and through small West Virginia towns. Take a look at the picture below – it could just as easily be a photo from France or Switzerland as the Virginia/West Virginia countryside (and since we just rode in the Alps in July, this comparison was fresh in our minds).
Onward we rolled, sometimes joining up with other riders in a small pack, and sometimes just sailing along by ourselves. The course was so well-marked that there was never a chance of getting lost, so we just found a rhythm and kept on pedaling. Eventually we made it to the final KOM climb of the day, a 6 mile ascent to Reddish Knob, up another dirt road, of course. We just kept telling ourselves, Jeremiah really rides this as a training ride!
Once over the Shenandoah again, it was all downhill to the finish in Harrisonburg. No, scratch that, it was sort of downhill to the finish. The last 20 or so miles wound their way through the rolling farm fields outside of town, with barely any flat road in sight. Our route was expertly mapped to bypass the main roads into town, opting for the purely pastoral path, with plenty of friendly locals waving hello as we rode by (we even passed an Amish horse and buggy).
Finally we rolled into town and made it to the finish line festivities – with nary a flat tire between us all day thanks to our rugged Kenda tires. Food and finisher’s medals were waiting for us as soon as we crossed the finish line – the helpful volunteers even had moist towels ready so we could clean off a day’s worth of hard-earned grime. And it was indeed hard-earned, as we could see when we downloaded the data from our Garmin Edge 800 GPS bike computers. We rode over 90 miles in total, with almost 11,000 feet of climbing (and just as much descending). Once we got cleaned up, we caught up with Jeremiah to see what he thought about putting on his very first Gran Fondo, and also about his preparation for the Pisgah Mountain Bike Stage Race (mixed with some ride highlights we captured with our Contour GPS helmet cam):
So would we ride it again? Absolutely (although maybe give us a week to recover)! If you judge by the results page, you’ll see that we didn’t exactly light up the record books, but that’s only part of what a Gran Fondo is all about. It’s really about challenging yourself, experiencing something new, and just having fun. Jeremiah and his team of volunteers (led by his wife Erin) made sure that all of those boxes were checked for the Alpine Loop Gran Fondo. Definitely make plans to give it a try next year, because now that Jeremiah has let everyone in on his secret training ride, this event is only going to get bigger and better. Just bring a positive attitude and your climbing legs and you’ll have a great time.
To see all of our pictures from the Alpine Loop Gran Fondo, check out our photo album on Facebook.
July 29, 2011 2 Comments
We thought that we would wrap up our Tour du Jour recaps with a series of posts about our experiences watching the last 4 stages of the 2011 Tour de France. Seeing the Tour in person is truly an experience every cyclist should do at least once, but hopefully our posts will give you an idea of what it’s like to see this crazy rolling sideshow live! To see more pictures from each day of our trip, check out the Tour du Jour photo albums on our Facebook page.
Stage 18 – Pinerolo to Galibier Serre-Chevalier
Since the climactic Galibier climb of Stage 18 was about 25 miles away from our hotel on Alpe d’Huez, we had the perfect opportunity for a great ride before we watched the pros rocket up the road. Our Europeds tour group was up early to beat the road closures – closed roads and diverted traffic are a fact of life when the Tour is in town. You never really know when the gendarmes will close the roads to traffic, sometimes even including bikes! Our ride began with a little known gem of a ride off of Alpe d’Huez, the Col de Sarenne – an amazing winding road that plummets off of the back of Alpe d’Huez, and conveniently enough serves as a shortcut to the Col du Galibier.
Once we regained a main road, it was pretty clear that we were headed in the right direction. As you get closer to the route of the Tour, you become part of a gigantic and unofficial gran fondo ride! The road is clogged with riders of all ages and abilities, and you find yourself hopping from group to group, tucking in to different pacelines as you go. As we neared the Galibier, we were pleasantly surprised to find that our guides Charly and Brad had managed to sneak our support vans up ahead, to lay out this sumptuous spread to refuel us before our day of watching the Tour.
Once we finally intersected with the race route, all thoughts of riding were over – the gendarmes let you know that it was time to lock up our bikes and walk the rest of the way. As you can see, it gets awfully crowded as you near the end of the stage route. But, in reality, if you make your way past the big crowded areas (usually near the big screen TVs), it was never a problem to find a perfectly nice spot to watch the Tour pass by.
We staked out a spot on a bend in the road up the Galibier, and settled in to wait for the race to come to us. If you’ve only watched the Tour in the US, you don’t always think that the stages usually finish around 5PM in France – since we had started our ride early that morning, we had quite a few hours to wait for the race. But there is always a cafe nearby, and the people-watching is usually an excellent diversion as well!
One sure sign that he Tour is only an hour or so away is the arrival of the famous publicity caravan. Passing over the entire route of the Tour ahead of the racers, the caravan is a winding parade of crazy sponsored cars (literally miles long), blaring terrible music and throwing cheap gifts into the crowd. Somehow when they pass everyone turns into a little kid once again, and yells and screams for the chance to grab a free keychain or awful hat!
Once the caravan passes by, you know that the real race is getting near. Then everyone waits for the appearance of the TV helicopters, which swarm above the leaders like angry bees. Looking down the mountain, we saw the choppers swing into view first, then, just barely, we could make out a tiny line of riders headed our way. The excitement builds in the crowd, and the noise level climbs in tandem. Everyone starts to edge farther into the road to get a better look, forming that crazy closed-in pathway that you see on TV (where you wonder how he riders will ever find a path – it really does happen quite naturally when you are there). Then the lead motorcycles come roaring through, and suddenly the race is upon you! As you scream and yell despite yourself, the racers flash by, only inches away from you, in groups of 2 or 5 or 10 – some looking confident, others seeming downright despondent.
And just like that, your day of watching the Tour is over! Everyone starts packing up and heading down the mountain, only parting to let the stragglers in the “autobus” group (made up of sprinters and other domestiques who don’t contest the high mountains) pass by in their business-like fashion. The ride back to our hotel was quite an adventure though, as suddenly the roads were clogged with thousands of walkers, cyclists, cars and campers heading back home. There is no way to prepare yourself for the chaos after a Tour stage passes by – you just try to survive and make it to the next day!
Stage 19 – Modane Valfréjus to Alpe-d’Huez
For the big stage that finished on top of Alpe d’Huez, we decided to try a different viewing tactic for the day. Throughout the morning we strolled around the top of the route to Alpe d’Huez (staying on top of the mountain made this a relaxing walk, as we didn’t have to battle any traffic), making our way down to the turn 1 (the last switchback). As you can see, the crowds were already camped out on the surrounding hillsides, ready for the madness.
But, thanks to an invite from our friends at Powerbar, our plan for the day was to check out the VIP trailer (l’Espace Tourmalet), located 50m from the finish line! With 3 levels of viewing platforms, the view from the VIP space was pretty sweet, plus there were free snacks, beverages and flat screen TVs to watch the progress of the race. Like we said, not a bad way to spend the afternoon (even if it did get crowded by the time the race rolled by).
As we watched the race develop on TV, we made the move down to street level, to subtly insinuate ourselves into a prime viewing spot along the railing (this takes some skill, since people tend to stake their claims early for the best spots). As you can see below, we got a great view for the final sprint to the finish, won by Frenchman Pierre Rolland, much to the delight of the home crowd (and if you listen closely, you can hear that the crowd still boos Alberto Contador!):
But the best part about our VIP access came after the ride. As soon as all of the riders finished this grueling stage, they were directed down a road right behind our VIP space. We got to see most of the riders up close and at ease (well, as relaxed as they could be after this brutal stage) as they headed back to their team buses or stopped to give interviews. We even got to give a few words of encouragement to American Tom Danielson, of Garmin Cervelo, as he passed by (here he is saying “Thanks”):
Stage 20 – Grenoble Individual Time Trial
Next up was the pivotal time trial stage in Grenoble – the ultimate mano a mano test. Watching a time trial at the Tour is a more relaxed affair, since riders are heading out on the course over many hours. You can wander around and enjoy the atmosphere, then head over to the barriers to watch a rider or 2 fly by (they are usually spaced out at 2-3 minute intervals). However, one of the more interesting aspects of the race to watch is the pre-race inspection. As you can see below, UCI officials inspect and weigh every time trial rig right before the rider heads off, to make sure it meets all of the arcane rules as determined by the arbiters of the sport (all in full view of the public).
Reading the body language of the riders before they started, it looked like Cadel Evans was super confident of his ability to make up his time difference to the Schleck brothers in this time trial (as, of course, proved to be the case).
Then suddenly it was time, and the leaders flashed by in quick succession. Here’s Evans powering to the finish line with the second best time of the day, with more than enough of a lead over the Schlecks to earn the yellow jersey, the first ever overall win for an Australian!
After the end of the stage each rider had to make their way through the scrum of fans, journalists, trainers and more. There was a small fenced in area for the riders to cool down and give interviews, but then they were unceremoniously dumped into the street to make their way back to the team bus (about 1km away). Andy Schleck was hustled off down a side street, but his brother Frank (wearing Andy’s skinsuit), was left to walk part of the way through the mass of people, until a team assistant brought his bike up so that he could escape. The look of disappointment on his face was clear.
Ah Paris, the site of the final, partly ceremonial, stage of the Tour de France. We strolled about “La Ville-Lumière” without much of plan on this, our final day in France. We caught the peloton just before they made it to the Champs-Élysées (where the race would finish with a series of laps). Cadel Evans, resplendent in yellow, was led onto the Champs in his place of honor, behind his BMC teammates.
Once the peloton hit the final circuits, the race really started! A breakaway forced the pace at the front, and the pack commenced the chase soon after. But the most entertaining part of this turn (right before the tunnel under the road from the Louvre), was watching the support cars roar through the corner at full speed, squealing their tires!
We checked out a few different spots to watch the end of the race (except for the Champs itself, which was too crowded to even attempt), and then had a moment of inspiration and pure luck. We decided to try an aerial view of the racing from the Ferris wheel on the Rue de Rivoli, and (unplanned beforehand) we managed to be at the top of the wheel as the racers poured down the Rue de Rivoli for the final lap of the Tour de France! Below you can see Phillipe Gilbert and Thor Hushovd putting in one last effort, before giving way to the HTC train of eventual winner, Mark Cavendish.
It was a fitting end to 4 straight days of watching the Tour de France live and in person! We hope that you enjoyed our Performance Tour du Jour coverage, here on our blog and on our Facebook & Twitter pages. It was truly a great race to watch and we had a blast covering it with our friends at Europeds, who organized this amazing experience. Maybe next year we’ll see you on the roads in France!
July 27, 2011 2 Comments
After a slight delay due to jet lag and foreign internet access, David & Chris are back with more Tour du Jour updates from their foray into France. Our fourth day in France began, yet again, with a chilly and drizzly morning (there was actually fresh snow on the mountainsides above and around us). Everyone kept telling us that this frigid summer weather was highly unusual, yet it remained cloudy and cool for the start of our ride.
But we were here to ride, so we layered our warmest base layers under our Scattante Team jersey and Forza shorts and headed out (or in this case, down the Alpe d’Huez). After a somewhat white-knuckled descent of Alpe d’Huez in the mist, we reached the valley floor at Bourg d’Oisans and immediately noticed an improvement in the weather. Clearing skies and warmer weather made our plan for the day much more appealing – this was going to be our biggest ride of the tour, a 70+ mile loop over some lesser-known climbs in the neighborhood, with an ascent of Alpe d’Huez as a bonus at the end (if we were up to it). Here’s part of our crew stopping for a quick break in a lovely Alpine valley.
The first climb of the day was the Col d’Ornon, a steady 8 mile ascent up a forested valley dotted with fresh waterfalls and quaint villages (this is France, after all). Our group spread out along the road, but reconvened at the summit of the Col d’Ornon, which was really more of high pass than a summit. But the best part about reaching the top of the col was that that meant we were about to drop down a 12+ mile descent!
We chased each other down the fast and flowy country roads, with hardly any traffic or towns to slow us down. The Devinci Leo really shined on this curvy descent, as it’s stable ride made the long descent super-smooth and fun (plus it was more than ready to respond if you wanted to sprint). At the bottom of the valley, we rolled across the covered Pont des Fayettes, our picnic lunch spot for the day.
And what a lunch was waiting for us! Charly, one of the Europeds guides, really knows how to lay out a spread. Fine French cheeses, bread, salami and wine (this being France, after all) were all there for our hungry peloton to devour. We tried, in vain, to balance our desire to eat everything in sight with the fact that we still had over 40 miles to ride! Even some pro cyclists were jealous of our spread, as the pro continental Skil Shimano team rode by on a training ride as we were eating and seemed very disappointed that they couldn’t stop for a snack!
Soon enough we were off again, this time heading up more idyllic Alpine valleys. Here’s Chris posing on his Scattante CFR Team road bike, enjoying the sunshine.
Once we started climbing again, though, the clouds and cold weather rolled back in. When we reached the top of our second big climb of the day, the Col de la Morte, the name of the pass seemed ominously fitting (the temperature swings on this ride were impressive, from the mid 40s on top of the passes to mid 70s in the valleys)!
Of course since we had just reached the top of a pass, that only meant one thing – it was now time to head back down (in case you haven’t noticed, there wasn’t much flat road on this particular ride). And by down, we mean down. The valley floor you see in the distance is where we would be in about 10 miles and 3,300 feet of elevation!
After the long descent, we waited for a few other members of our group to catch up (and to get some feeling back in our hands) so that we could form a paceline for the ride along the valley floor back to Bourg d’Oisans and the base of Alpe d’Huez. We arrived just in time to catch the end of stage 17 on TV in a cafe (the stage was won by Edvald Boassen Hagen) . Inspired by Boassen Hagen’s solo victory, Chris, Dan and I (David) decided that we should finish our ride in style with a closing climb up Alpe d’Huez (after 70 miles of hard Alpine riding).
Let’s just say that climbing Alpe dHuez after that many miles in the saddle really gives you a new appreciation for what the pro riders are able to do day after day in the Tour de France. My legs were totally shot after the first 3 switchbacks, and I spent most of the ride getting passed by skinny pre-teens and folks riding commuter bikes with full panniers! I looked for any excuse to stop and take a picture, like the shot above of the notorious “Dutch corner” about halfway up, complete with its own DJ and a steady supply of beverages (beer hand-ups were not uncommon).
But up and up I crawled, counting down the switchbacks as I went. Once again the record for fastest ascent of Alpe d’Huez was safe, but eventually I made it back at the hotel to meet Chris and Dan, who had pulled ahead on the lower third of the mountain. Exhausted but satisfied with our efforts, we got cleaned up and met the rest of our Europeds tour group for a well-earned hearty French dinner. You can check out more photos from Performance Tour du Jour on our Facebook page.
July 19, 2011 1 Comment
Today dawned cloudy, cold and rainy on top of Alpe d’Huez, but that wasn’t enough to deter us from a ride up the mountain! Since our original ride had to be changed because of the weather, some of the folks on our Europeds Tour Trip decided that a quick assault on the 21 hairpins would be enough for today. While some of us loaded our bikes and gear into the vans for a valet ride down the switchbacks, a few folks from our group braved the slick descent (difficult enough on a dry day). Below you can see our mechanic, Brad, prepping the bikes for the day, as Spencer and John get ready to load their bikes into the waiting vans.
After a few of our crew decided that discretion was the better part of valor, we set off with John for a wet ascent of Alpe d’Huez. Nothing like a constant cold drizzle to make the ride up even more challenging than it already is!
Over the course of the 8 plus mile climb, the road to Alpe d’Huez averages about an 8 percent grade (although it gets shallower at the corners, and steeper in other sections). If you’re having trouble picturing what this grade looks (and feels) like, just take a look at the picture below. That’s a pretty big gap from one bend of the road to the other!
Here’s a shot of David powering his way up to turn 3, where barriers have already been laid out to protect the pros from the hordes of fans sure to descend on the mountain on Friday! But today we had the mountain pretty much to ourselves, except for the handful of other cyclists brave/crazy enough to attempt this climb today.
Once we reached the top, the weather and the view weren’t much improved. The drizzle got heavier and the temperature dropped down to 36 degrees Fahrenheit as we crested the climb! Nothing like summer in the French Alps!
After heading back to the hotel and warming up with a hot shower (and trying to dry out all of our wet gear), we headed out for a tasty lunch and a little shopping (after watching the exciting Tour stage finish, of course – Thor Hushovd is just amazing!) We found a great little bike shop called Cycles Huez, run by a friendly English/Australian couple, that sold cool Alpe d’Huez jerseys. Check them out if you make it up here one day!
July 18, 2011 1 Comment
Day two here in France began with a walking tour of Grenoble, as our Europeds Tour group wasn’t meeting up until the afternoon. As it turns out, Grenoble can be an incredibly pleasant place when it’s not raining and you’re not pulling bike cases 1.5km to your hotel! Nestled in an Alpine valley, Grenoble is filled with lovely cafes, quaint streets, and this peripherique (cable car) that went to an overlooking mountainside.
But soon enough it was time to head back to the train station to meet our tour group (luckily we discovered that Grenoble has a highly efficient tram system that ran right by our hotel, so we didn’t have to drag our bags this time). We loaded up our gear and headed up to Alpe d’Huez with Charly, one of the guides.Once on the road, we finally saw our first sign for the Tour de France (OK, it was a warning about road closures, but we knew we were getting close!):
Just about the moment we arrived on top of Alpe d’Huez, we tore open our bike cases and set to work getting our bikes ready to ride! It may have been late in the afternoon, but when you get a chance to ride Alpe d’Huez, you go for it! Here we are at the bottom of the climb, in matching Performance Ultra jerseys and shorts, with Chris on his Scattante Team bike and David on his Devinci Leo bike.
So what can we say about the climb up Alpe d’Huez? Well, it’s pretty darn hard and unrelenting, but it’s definitely climbable. You just find your rhythm and count off the 21 hairpins as you go up – the pitch of the road varies a bit, but really it’s a fairly constant (if steep) grade. But don’t get us wrong, we were still maxing out our bike’s gearing range! Of course we felt a little less impressive when we passed this guy on the climb… towing his child in a trailer!
The payoff for all of your hard climbing work was the view – checking out the hairpin bends from above, after pedaling your way up, was a totally rewarding experience. Plus there were already tons of folks camped out on the side of the road cheering you on – especially a Dutch contingent who even brought their own DJ (we hammered out a little sprint as we passed this crowd, just to give them something to cheer about)!
Finally, after a little over an hour, we crested the summit of Alpe d’Huez – although it turns out that this isn’t really the top of the climb for the Tour riders, which is really about 3km further up the mountain! But it does give you some sense of the crowds of folks already filling up this legendary climb, in anticipation of the big day!
Here we are after our little jaunt up Alpe d’Huez, with a pretty amazing vista in the background. All in all, not a bad way to spend an afternoon. Tomorrow rain is in the forecast, but we’ve got our fingers crossed that we’ll get to share another epic ride in the Alps with you!