It happens every year. You can set your clock by it. Cycling publications and websites report on the equipment that teams will use to race Roubaix, Gent Wevelgem and Flanders. Numerous pictures of special wheels, frames, brakes and bartape will fill the internet. While the coverage may seem repetitive to some, I simply can't get enough of it. You see, to me these races signify a rebirth. An awakening of sorts. Like a phoenix rising from the ashes, I too am reborn in the spring. My winter-induced slumber comes to an end with the spring classics (although I've been riding through the winter, and I'm crazy enough that I actually start watching races like the Tour Of Oman live earlier in the season). At this time of year, any race-related coverage is like solid gold to me. I love seeing the chain-catchers, the cyclocross forks, the triple tape. I've seen it before, I'll see it again...but damn it, I'd be lying if I told you that I didn't look through all those pictures every time.
This year, I'm happy to report, I too will be experiencing the fabled cobbles. I know that the internet rumor mill has been busy reporting that I will be a late addition to one of several classics-focused teams in time for Roubaix, but that won't be happening. While it's true that many such offers were made (mostly due to information about my epic commutes spreading through the upper echelons of pro cycling), I simply had to turn them all down. This was mostly due to teams refusing to pay for my pet-sitting expenses as part of my contract. I don't know what they expected me to do, miniature dachshunds don't take care of themselves you know. They have to be walked and bathed regularly. Speaking of dachshunds, have you noticed how often Bike Snob brings them up? As a proud owner of an exquisite 7-pound specimen of said breed, I'm honored by the unusual amount of attention he gives them.
But back to me not joining a Pro team. They can have it their way. I don't need to ride for their fancy teams. Instead, I will be riding the course (from the Arenberg Forest to the velodrome at least) the day prior to the race. So I guess I'm technically not in the race, but I'll be on the course...which is pretty much exactly like being in the race. Right? Sure it is. I know you all agree. It won't be a race, but I still think I have a good chance to crush the opposition...even if they don't know that they're racing against me. This has never stopped me when I ride my bike to work, which is when I've been known to crush food-delivery guys on semi-steep ascents.
Before any of you point out that I needn't make any special arrangements for Roubaix-specific equipment since I won't be racing at the speeds that the pros will, I ask you to remember that merely riding over local cobblestones literally shook a filling out of my teeth recently. It's for this reason that I've gathered a special team to help me make some choices.
Team Cycling Inquisition
In preparation for my ride, I decided to round up my technical staff in order to receive suggestions and recommendations regarding the best equipment to use. Just like Armstrong had his "F1 team" to advice him on all things technological, I too have a team of experts who supports me. It's an unusual mix of individuals, to be sure, but I trust that their expertise will help me conquer the Hell Of The North. Here's my team:
By far the most technically-minded individual in the team, Vince runs his own HVAC company (Coletti and Sons Heating and Cooling) from the small office across the hall from Cycling Inquisition's headquarters.
Peggy heads up the accounts payable department here at CI, and comes to the team from her previous job at Douglas-Bierman Telemarketing Services. Peggy will be instrumental in helping the team figure out what is, and is not, financially viable when it comes to equipment choices.
Dave Weaver and Ken Bierbauer:
Dave and Ken are our interns this semester. They are both grad students from UCLA, and have been instrumental in cataloging our catalog collection. As heads of the "cataloging the catalog collection" project, Dave and Ken have shown their attention to detail and undeniable passion for perfection. We welcome them both to the team.
Here we see Ken and Dave, hard at work during one of six late-night Roubaix brainstorming sessions at the Cycling Inquisition world headquarters
After numerous meetings, the team came to certain conclusions regarding the equipment I will be using in Roubaix. Please read below for the results, as well as the explanations behind each choice.
32 spoke, 3-cross wheels
32 spoke, 3-cross wheels
Forget the cracked wheel for a second, and allow me to ask you this: Are you as creeped out by men who wear thumb rings as I am?
32 spokes, aluminum rim. Nice and simple. This was a decision we came to early on in our brainstorming sessions. Although we originally considered wheels from manufacturers such as Zipp, Edge, Hed, Revolution, Reynolds, as well as handbuilt Ambrosio rims with Dura Ace hubs...it was Peggy who kindly reminded me that I didn't own any such wheels. Additionally, Peggy also ran the numbers and figured out that I couldn't even afford the quick-release skewers for any such wheelsets, and that the skewers alone usually cost more than my current wheels. So keeping in mind the roughness of the terrain I'll be faced with, we quickly decided to go with one of the two pairs of wheels I already own. Both sets of wheels have 32 spokes, with one weighing a ton, and the other only weighing half a ton. The team chose to go with the wheelset that only weighs half a ton. Let me share the details about this absolutely amazing wheelset with you. It's a fantastically stock pair of 32 spoke, 3-cross wonderwheels. Their hubs are lacking in the logo and brand name department, but they spin relatively well. I should mention that the rear wheel has a slight hop to it, but I'm not worried. I believe that hop will give me an advantage over the other tourists who will be doing the course with me. I believe it will add a little pep to my ride, and will help bounce me gently over the cobbles.
Whatever came with my bike, no extra clearance
At first we considered cantilever brakes in anticipation of mud, but we quickly realized (after checking) that my bike won't take cantilever brakes. Don't get me wrong, we tried, but the glue didn't hold...and thus we were left with the only option we could think of: the stock caliper brakes that came on my bike. I think the weight savings will be well worth it, and the ease of the quick release will come in handy when I have to put my bike in someone's trunk due to severe pain in my forearms and my taint-region. All together, I think this was a wise choice.
This Garmin bike seems to be triple-wrapped and features an extra set of brake levers. In a shocking move, I will be foregoing both options.
Extra bar tape is something I gave some consideration to...but my bartape sponsors declined my request for extra tape. I called Specialized, Deda, Arundel, Bontrager and Fizik. Each call went the same way. "Sir, who are you again? Please stop calling us, we don't know who you are, and we're not going to send you bar tape." It was not to be. To be fair, I have one extra roll of bar tape which I bought on sale last fall...but I'm really saving it for the commuter bike I'm hoping to build up later this spring. You see, the bartape on the bike I'm taking to Roubaix is pretty wrecked, and should be changed. If I replace it with the roll I'm saving, I'll still only have a single layer of tape. If I wrap the new tape over the old tape, I'll have more padding during my Roubaix experience... but once I come home I'll have handlebars with the same diameter as can of Pepsi. What will I do then? Take off the new tape and be back to my old crappy bar tape? See my problem? The team had to kick this one around for a long time. In the end, we decided to merely go with the tape I have, and see how it goes.
Cheap fingerless gloves, or long/short glove combo
Cheap fingerless gloves, or long/short glove combo
Nice gloves. Andrew Dice Clay (real name Andrew Silverstein) pretended to be Italian for most of the 1980s.
I don't wear gloves when I ride my bike, unless it's cold out. I don't own fingerless gloves, because I've never felt like I needed them, and because I have a legitimate fear of looking like Andrew Dice Clay (see image above). This is a real problem, since the roughness of the terrain may dictate that I wear some kind of padding on my hands, particularly due to the lack of extra handlebar tape. I guess I could buy a pair of fingerless gloves, and then return them after my trip. You may think this is a horrible, dishonest thing to do...but Colombians have no shame. To give you an idea of how Colombians operate, let me tell you a quick story. When my family was super broke in Miami, we found a huge box of unused, in-the-package tighty-whities in a dumpster. What did we do with them? We returned them to Sears (all 80-something of them) for cash back. With that money, we ate for another two weeks or so. You see, they used to give you cash back without a receipt back in the early 90s...a time in American retail that Colombians lovingly refer to as ,"the golden era of returns". Don't worry, I won't do this at a small local bike shop. I'll make sure I do it at a big, evil company...since that will apparently make the otherwise unethical act completely legitimate.
So my plan for gloves is to take my light winter gloves and perhaps buy a pair of fingerless gloves with padding, which I plan on returning. The thing that sucks is that my winter gloves don't have padding, which is not normally an issue for me. So, if it's cold on that day, should I wear the fingerless gloves OVER the winter gloves? It will be a terrible look...but it would keep me from having to buy TWO pairs of padded gloves. In the end, I'll look like Theo Huxtable when he would wear his tiny shorts over his sweatpants. Remember that? I can't find a picture of it, but it was not a good look.
Pump/CO2:After discussing it with the entire team, we've decided that a frame pump will be a wise choice for this year's Roubaix. Since I can't fly with CO2 cartridges, and I suspect I may have a fair number of flats, I actually went ahead and spent $20 on a frame pump. Peggy had to make some room on the CI budget for this spenditure, but assured me we'd make payroll next month. Sadly, the only pump I found on sale will not match my bike, and will probably sound like I have a pair of maracas strapped to my top tube. Oh well, there goes my whole plan to undo stereotypes about latinos....I'll be the first person to ride Roubaix along with my own Caribbean musical accompaniment.
Gorilla Glue, the most astutely named adhesive compound on the market, allowed us to keep tubulars on my clincher rims for more than a few pedal strokes. Saddened by the ordeal, I realized I would probably be left to choose between the two sets of low-end tires that are currently on my wheels: Vittoria Zaffiro 23s or 25s. These are a decidedly "AM" choice of tires ("AM" is to "amateur" what "PRO" is to "professional"), but since I'm an amateur...I think they'll work just fine. I should remind everyone, however, that Frederic Gueson won Paris Roubaix in 1997 while riding on clinchers. I imagine his tires were probably of a slightly higher quality than mine (which I got on sale for $18 a piece), but I believe I will nevertheless do very well on these, partially inspired by Gueson's victory. Between the two sets I have, I believe I will opt for the 25s, since the 23 are rather worn. Have any of you ridden the course? What did you use?
Sorry, I know that this picture has nothing to do with tire pressure. To be honest, I couldn't find a good image for this category. I came across this picture while looking for places around my neighborhood where I could go pet llamas and middle aged white guys at the same time. You see, on TV I've often heard that those of us who are "ethnic" in one way or another, are "exotic". This is mostly said about actresses who are dark skinned and from other countries. They are "exotic beauties". Well, similarly, white americans are "exotic" to me, and I thus like to pet them like I do llamas or pygmy goats.
After several reconnaissance rides through portions of local cobbles, I've come to realize that I'm not in tune with my bike (or my body) to the point that I can tell the difference between 100psi and 110psi. Additionally, our intern Ken reminded me that I'll be inflating my tires (once I'm in Europe) with my frame pump...which does not have a gauge. It's for this reason that we all wisely decided to leave tire pressure to chance. I tested the frame pump this weekend, and it seems like I can only get the tire pressure up to about 80psi with it, since my arms are weak and look almost exactly as thin and fragile as spaghetti. In a second attempt I only managed a little over 70 psi. As such, I will have no way of knowing what pressure I'll be riding at, so that's the plan we're going with...leaving it to chance.
So, am I missing anything? Have any of you ridden the course? Do you have any tips for me? Let me know. Please.
Today's Extra Credit:
I've written before about how passionate Colombian cycling announcers were in the 1980s. Here's some great footage of Luis Herrera winning the Alpe d'Huez stage in the 1984 Tour (as an amateur mind you). You can hear the Colombian announcer a few times in this video, including the end. Great stuff. Notice how everyone undoes their toe-straps as they cross the line. As seen in the What's New blog.