Thursday, May 21, 2009

Time Trials & Tribulations

I'm the worst time triallist on the planet.  This isn't false humility either - I can stink up a TT like no other.  In my first 40K TT (which was dead flat with a light breeze), I struggled in with a time of 1 hour and 14 minutes - the third slowest time of the day.  I didn't know right then that I was the WTTOTP (Worst Time Triallist On The Planet), but I didn't have to wait long to find out.  I saw that one of the riders that I beat (by 13 seconds!) was a woman I knew.  I asked her how her ride went, and she planted the knife - "I'm pretty happy with my time considering the pregnancy and all."  That's right, this little woman that I beat by a measly 13 seconds was 4 months pregnant - with twins.  Her doctor advised her not to push it too hard, so she did a tempo ride.  Just when I thought that I couldn't feel worse, the other rider I beat (by 40 seconds!) rolled up to congratulate me - on the full-suspension Santa Cruz Heckler that he rode in the TT.  Ugh.

Not everyone knows this, but I hold a state championship in the Team Time Trial.  How does the WTTOTP manage to hold a state medal?  It's easy if you have three fast teammates.  You see, in a 4-person Team Time Trial only 3 of the riders have to finish for the team to win.  So about halfway through the race,  I screamed FLAT! to my teammates, pulled over, and let the air out of my rear tire.  My three teammates posted the best time on the day, and I accepted the medal with them like the lowlife bastard that I am.  This wasn't exactly the high point in my cycling career, and it's one result that is absent from the old palmares.

Over the last few years, I've made the trek to the State 40k TT  several times.  I've managed to do (another) 1:14, a 1:06, and a 1:10.  I've tried almost every trick in the book too - Zipp disc wheel, aero shoe covers, and a TT specific bike.  This year I was going to pull out all of the stops and add an aero helmet and a skinsuit to the time trial wizardry listed above.  But while training for the annual race of shame yesterday, something clicked in my head.  I'm the WTTOTP.  Why in the hell am I putting myself through this again?  Suddenly I could think of nothing worse than posting a 1 hour +  effort in my Captain America-like TT regalia.  In my everyday life I'm not a big fan of humiliation, but I actually pay for it once a year to do this stupid race.  No more.  I'm not doing it this year, and I may never do it again.  I guess I'll have to find some other way to humiliate myself.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

A Few Cool Bikes, and Uncommon vs. Quality

It's been pretty fun at the shop this week - I've built this Pegoretti Marcelo with Campy Super Record...
This S-Works Roubaix with Dura Ace 7900.... And this S-Works Roubaix with Dura Ace DI-2.
Three very cool bikes , but this photo shows the reality of the bike biz - notice the DI-2 equipped Roubaix on one side of the stand, and the GMC Denali bike on the other side.  Only a $9700 price difference between them!

Of those three bikes, I would have to say that the Pegoretti is my favorite, even though the S-Works bikes are cool as shit and much more like the bike I actually ride.  The Peg holds a special place in my heart because it represents handcrafted Italian steel at its best, welded by a master.  It's much more than the sum of it's tubes and paint - it's a bike frame, but it's also a piece of art.  

I run a bike shop that sells primarily Trek and Specialized.  I dabble in some cool Euro stuff (like the Pegoretti), but Trek and Specialized pay the bills.  I'm fortunate to be able to offer these two premium brands, and thanks to our customers and our staff there are a lot of Trek and Specialized bikes on the local roads. As a byproduct of this success, I hear the phrase "I don't want the same thing everyone else has" about a thousand times a year.  I get it - everyone wants to be an individual.   A few of them (like the owners of the bikes above) simply buy the best, which is expensive and therefore rare.  That type of buyer appreciates quality, likes having unique equipment, and is willing to pay the cost of admission.  This is a mentality I respect, and not for the obvious capitalist reasons.  I respect it because they buy a bike that's both uncommon and the best of its breed.

On the other hand, many of the people who say this to me are willing to trade uncommon for quality - in other words, they will ride inferior equipment rather than (gasp!) ride the same bike as someone else.  This is the mentality I find mind-boggling.  I can't imagine spending more money on a bike that is at best equal - and often inferior in construction, distribution, and warranty support - to the brands I sell for the sake of having something different.  Is their wish to punish Trek and Specialized for their success?  To chastise them for offering premium product, warranty support, and supporting bike advocacy?  Have they grown weary of exhaustive research and development, cutting edge materials, and proprietary production facilities?

It's hard for me to tell people the truth about the majority of the bikes on the market without sounding like some curmudgeon who doesn't sell the brand they want.  But the truth is this - most of the so-called "premium" bikes on the market are cookie-cutter, mass produced pieces that share assembly lines with tennis rackets, golf club shafts, and other "premium" bikes.  For example - Cervelo frames roll off of the same assembly line as the Ridleys, Scotts, and Trek 4 Series Madones at Ten Tech Composites.  Do you like the Orbea Orca?  Then you will probably like the Kestrel, Kuota, Quintana Roo, and Fondriest bikes that are built under the same roof at Martek Composites.  Does that make any of these bad bikes?  Absolutely not - both Ten Tech and Martek do excellent work and all of these frames are well built.  But it hardly makes them unique - the tube shapes may be different, but there is often no significant difference in the type of carbon used from brand to brand.  So if you don't want the same thing as everyone else, are you really accomplishing that goal with these bikes? 

I'm not bashing any of the bikes listed above.  If you ride them and like them more than what I sell, that's what you should buy.  But before you run out and buy something just because it's "different", ride a Madone, Tarmac, or Roubaix - you might find there is a reason everyone is riding a Trek or Specialized.