Cycling Equipment Observations.

09Apr09

Tonight I decided to take a ride up the Cherry Creek trail and check out the Wednesday night TT series. Why watch and not race. Several reasons. 1) I don’t like to TT much 2) My TT bike is in an embarrassing array of parts that equal an expensive guilt trip that haunts me every time I walk in the garage “I should finish that thing or ebay it.” 3) You have to be involved in some crazy choreographed voodoo magic to get registered for the Cherry Creek time trial series. No joke. Due to sunlight there are only limited spots. It’s not a weekly registration, it’s a one time whole series deal, which leads me to my next reason 4) I think I have commitment issues (not really, but it sounds funny)

I digress.

So as I sat there on the log fence in Cherry Creek park, I reflected on the sunset, noted the amount of mud on my road bike and took note of the bang up sewing job I had done on my 9 year old DeFeet knee warmers that only hours before had a hole over the kneecap. Anyway …

Then I heard it …. whoo whoo whoo whoo, (disk/aero wheel sounds coming from time trial bike.)

It was pretty funny to watch. All kinds of bad form/position, knee tracking issues. Christ people, get a bike fit. For what most people pay for a TT bike, the cost of a visit to see George Mullen, Nat Ross or Andy Pruitt for a bike fit is pocket change.

My teammates looked strong, the two guys from our elite team threw down literally the same time. Pretty interesting considering one was on a full out TT setup and the other had a road bike. (more on this later).

I think the best part was the 10K TT bikes with no aero wheels, or the lack of skinsuits on some of the guys with the 10K TT setups. Even better were the guys with the best/newest/fastest 10K TT bikes, but no aero helmet. Do you people read? Anyway, it was interesting, but not in the way that makes me want to finish my TT bike. I really should because I guarantee any chance I have of being in the money at stage races is out the window due to my lack of aero equipment, but I think our sport has grown too equipment dependent. 

That got me thinking, how can anyone expect an amateur sport to grow and thrive when the cost of admission is so insanely ridiculous? You want to snowboard, you buy a board, binding boots and whatever will keep you warm. You’re good, for a few years. With cycling, every year it’s something new and some years the newest technology is twice the cost of the previous year. When I started racing, you could be a competitive racer with a 2-3 K bike (retail price) – which is still a lot. Now, most racers are on 5-6K bikes if not higher. It’s ridiculous. Yes they are light, yes they are stiff, yes they look cool, but non of them make you any faster. Trust me on this. (with the exception of aero-equipment, which is the issue at hand).

I think the TT bike is a technologically amazing, cool to look at and super fast to ride, but do they help the sport long-term? I don’t think so. Imagine how many more people might register if they thought they would have a fighting chance on a road bike. I remember being at junior nationals watching Mike Creed warm up on a custom Litespeed blade (same bike lance won the 99 tour TTs on) with full Zipp wheels. Then I looked at my road bike with clip ons and realized I had my work cut out for me. (the event that year was cancelled moments before the start because USA cycling hadn’t coordinated a proper road closure. Just another example of their incompetence). 

Here is my proposal. TT bikes are outlawed for all juniors, period. Teenagers should be worrying about how to learn to race a bike, not how they are going to acquire the $15,000 worth of bikes they will need to be competitive. The top 1% of juniors are sponsored, but the rest fend for themselves. Imagine how many juniors with insane talent we’ve lost because they don’t have the support of Hottubes, Slipstream or another top-end junior team. The cost of equipment is what drove me away in 2000 after I lost most my support for mountain bike racing. 

I recently heard the number of  juniors registered for USA cycling is under 100. I wonder why? (other than USA cycling’s general lack of competence.) At the same time the largest number of cyclists is supposedly over 40. If USA cycling and the sport believes a sport filled with bored rich people over 40 will influence some long term growth, they’re high (but we already knew that).

The sport speaks to itself, markets to itself and is dying by itself. The sport is great at selling product to those of us who are already “Hooked”, but we have a hard time finding new “users.”

It’s not just TT bikes and their cost, it’s everything. The new Dura-Ace group is $2500. Are you kidding me? When will this craziness end? I’ll tell you when, the moment we all quit buying into it. Luckily, it’s already started. I have countless Pro/Am friends who have frame sponsors and get modest support with helmets, glasses and clothing, but have to buy their own group. Guess how many of those guys are on Sram Rival($900)? They know how to race their bike and they know 300 grams difference for the cost of $1500+ isn’t going to make any difference in a road race or criterium. Plus, if you race your bike enough in a year, you can expect to touchdown a few times. I’ll be damned if I’ll spend $700 dollars on shifters just to see them trashed from crit crashes by August.

For the record, I am not anti-technology or “old school”. I love to ride the best carbon fiber equipment just as much as the next guy. My concern is whether or not it’s helping our sport longterm.

I propose we all focus on the ride more. Get a bike fit. Learn to race and ride your bike and enjoy what you have. Nothing feels better than sticking it to the guy with a 10K bike in a race. As I said earlier, my teammate posted one of the fastest times on his road bike. Go figure.

Cheers.

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