Death of a Friend

I hate that title, because I usually try to resist the urge to anthropomorphise.  I’m talking about a thing–a place–but the death of it seems like a more personal loss than the end of a thing.

One of the weirdest things about this situation is that it isn’t really dead.

The place is still there–same name on the door, same appearance.  Different people inside, but to the unknowing or unobservant, it might look exactly the same walking by from one day to another.  But to me, it is dead.  I suppose I should note that disclaimer at the outset–this is just my perspective.  I’m not trying to influence anyone else, nor speak for anyone else.  Just me.  This isn’t a professional statement, but rather a personal reflection on my personal blog.

In reporting, they focus on the 5Ws and H (who, what, when, where, why, how).  In the law, we focus first on the existence of a duty, then a breach of the duty, then a causal relationship between the breach and a resulting injury–all of that before we ever get to the damages.  And truth be told, when my friend started dying some months ago, I fantasized about writing this post.  At that time, I lusted after writing in great and gory detail the happenings and occurrences that lead to the death.  With the passage of time, my desire to focus on those issues has passed.  I’ve come to realize that how we got here is less important.

The only thing I’m left with is where I’m at now, and where the community is at.

I came to know this thing several years ago.  It lead me to meet nearly all of my best friends.  It lead me to great adventures.  It wasn’t really a friend–it was more like a group.  Depending on what metaphor you want to use, it was a church–or an army.  We participants went around proselytizing–or recruiting, if you prefer that metaphor–seeking others to join our group.  I have a closet full of the vestments or uniforms that we utilized.  (Writing in two metaphors grows tiresome quickly, so at the risk of offending someone, I’m sticking with the religious metaphor).  We did everything we could to support it, and those who were close to it.  We supported it with our money, with our sweat–so much sweat–and with our blood.  Occasionally even our tears.  We often put it before our own interests, in an way that in retrospect seems irrational.

Then, maybe something happened.  I don’t know.

What happened or didn’t happen doesn’t really matter.  I’ve come to realize that what matters is what happened afterwards.  We all cast ourselves out.  Those who labored at the church daily, they all left.  All of them–every last one.  Those of us who just came to pray at the church, and to volunteer from time to time, we saw the laborers leave and we left too.  And now the place still stands there–it looks the same outwardly, but inward, it isn’t.  Inward, everything is different.  There’s a different religion inside these days.

The closet full of vestments that I have–I’m embarrassed to wear them.  They used to represent something so dear to me–so important, so vital.  Something I was so proud to represent.  Something that I dedicated so much time and effort to, without any clear reward for the same.  And now?  Now I have to think twice before putting them on.  Sure, I tell myself that the words on the vestments stand for the things that once meant something–the things that I worked for.  But I’m scared that they don’t.  I’m scared that they still represent the thing that died, that changed.  It’s like some sort of crazy cyborg–it still looks the same, but the heart within is gone.  It has the same physical components, but none of the memories, the spirit, the vitality.  It’s just mechanical now.  Just the things are left.

The things never really meant that much anyhow.

With the death of this friend, a new chapter has emerged in a lot of lives.  The laborers are going on to better adventures.  The clergy will be doing things that will have an incredible impact on the culture I’m a part of–amazing things that I cannot wait to share.  But those of us who sat in the pews, those of us in the congregation, we’re still here.  We just don’t have a place to pray anymore.  We meet in the parking lot outside the place sometimes, and struggle to avoid eye contact with anyone inside.  I suppose I needn’t say that I no longer tithe.  I no longer engage in any relationship or interaction–nor will I.  I’m now left as a member of a congregation with no church.

There was always a commercial part of the relationship.  Peoples’ jobs depended on the place, and I certainly supported it economically.  But it always seemed like something more–there’s more to what I took away than I could have ordered in a box from somethingdotcom.  People don’t get religion delivered by UPS.  They don’t join a congregation when their experience is buying from a nameless person over a counter.  My religion was different.  It was personal.  If you haven’t experienced it, you can’t understand it.  I don’t have the words.

I don’t have the church anymore, either.  It’s gone.  It’s gone and has left a hole that I don’t think will ever be filled.  I don’t think it will be filled because it was so improbable to begin with–the amazing synchronicity of intersecting lives and moments and companies and things and places and the thing it became.  It was impossible that it could have happened once.  It is impossible that it could ever happen again.

A fellow congregant suggested that I should write a eulogy for the church.  But to truly eulogize, you have to write in praise, and share stories about all that was good about the thing that was lost, and I’m not ready to do that yet.  Because of the cyborg, I worry that people will think I’m talking about the hollow shell of the church that’s still there.  My church is dead, and I’m not about to start advertising for Hananiah.  That yoke can carry itself.

So instead, I’ll just share that something beautiful, improbable, imperfect, and amazing has died.  To those of you who have no idea what I write about, I apologize for being equivocal and ambiguous.  To those who were a part of it while it lived, thank you for the shared experiences.  Thanks for sharing the religion.

It really was something, wasn’t it?

Skewer Recall Expanded

A few months ago, when Trek announced their recall of bike skewers, I wrote that this was the tip of the iceberg, and that because of the Trek recall, other manufacturers would have to follow suit.

That day is now upon us.  Click over to to see if you’re the owner of one of the 1,500,000 affected bikes.

And again folks, this is a recall of a product that is completely safe when used properly.  It is only when used improperly (riding a bike with a loose skewer) that it becomes “dangerous.”

A Treatise on Gender

Well, not quite.

The cycling world has been abuzz this week with a significant amount of intelligent discussion about gender, and the role of gender in the cycling industry.  I’m going to start with a disclaimer, a personal explanation, and an apology.

The disclaimer is that I’m a cisgender, heterosexual, white male who’s lived in the Midwest my entire life.  I grew up on a farm.  I went to very homogeneous schools.  I was probably, at some point, one of those people who would say things like, “I have ____ friends,” referring to any specific minority group, as a reference claiming that I had relevancy to a conversation about privilege, discrimination or the consequences of either/both.  I grew up in a world that was replete with all sorts of discrimination, whether it be based on gender, race, sexual preference, religion, or anything else–the same world that we all grew up in–but I didn’t really see it.  Sure–I saw the flagrant stuff, as would anyone, and haughtily condemned it.  What I didn’t see was the day to day discrimination.  As I write this, I’m moderately terrified that in trying to talk about this topic, I’ll unintentionally engage in some gender-based faux-pas.  I write at that risk, nonetheless.

The explanation is that for me, the change occurred when my wife and I had a daughter.  I started to see the world that she was going to live in.  I started to see the things that she was going to have to deal with when she grew up.  I had lived in that world with my mother, my sister and my wife–all of whom I love dearly–but it wasn’t until I saw it as a father that I started to see the real, day to day discrimination that exists.

The apology is that because of the above, I’m not really well-suited to write this post.  If you read what I just wrote, you can surmise that it was some form of gender-biased, paternalistic, overly-protective feelings of a father caring for his defenseless girl, that lead me to claim to see discrimination.  That supposition would be false.  My daughter is far from defenseless–she’s brilliant, strong, self-assured, and all of the things that I wish for her.  It’s paternalistic in the literal sense that she’s my child, but the honest assessment of my scenario is that I became more aware once I had a child.  I paid more attention to passing cars in parking lots, I paid more attention to the suspicious looking person on my street, and I paid more attention to the context of the world that we live in, and that my child would grow up in.

I read Christina’s truly great article, On Our Own Two Wheels, over on the Surly blog this week.  If you haven’t read it, take the time to do so now.  The experiences that she recounts are so different from mine as to be terrifying.  I’ve never walked into a room and been discounted because of some objective descriptor that I have no control over (at least that I’m aware of).  I’ve never been subjected to clear sexual harassment as a quid pro quo for “allowing” me to do my job.  I enjoy cycling, and the cycling scene, because of how self-aware so many people are.  It’s saddening to see the utter rubbish that someone has to put up with because of her gender.

Truly, the past few years have been eye opening in a lot of ways.  I’ve “met” some e-friends via Facebook and have seen a lot of the different perspectives that they have–which have informed and enriched my own perspectives.  People like Chris, Jenn, Eleanor, Laurie, Michael, Natalia, Christina, Jen–and many others.  I’m not ashamed to say that my mind is expanding and my understanding growing.  If yours is not, perhaps you have something to be ashamed of.

In light of the controversies that Christina (among others) writes about, Chrome has published their “apology.

From the apology, we learn that posting photos of topless female models in Instagram was intended to be:

“Memorable and gender-neutral.”

We learn that Chrome has:

“Never adopted a ‘sex sells’ mentality or utilized sexuality in a deliberate manner to sell our products.”

We learned that Chrome is not apologizing for the “intent behind the promotion,” but rather is apologizing that everyone else out there is a pervert who misunderstood that their photo of topless models, clad only in Chrome schwag, were intended to be a funny gender-neutral critique of fashion, and not a misogynistic attempt to associate their products with an attractive, mostly-naked model in a bald effort to hawk their wares.  Those quotes above are real quotes.  Seriously.  Like, not made up.  Fer-realz.  Chrome also says that, while they used topless female models in an advertisement for their sale…

“It was never our intention to sexualize women in any way through the promotion.”

I feel like this story would be far more effectively conveyed with more Dr. Evil memes, but I’ll not do so.  I have no doubt that showing attractive people with products is an effective way to sell products.  That’s what most advertising is premised upon–the desire to buy something to look like the people associated with that product.  But I’ll go back to the outset…I don’t believe that there come a point in my life where I’d want my daughter to look at the Chrome ad, and think, “I want to buy something from this sale, so I can look like this person…”?  Or speaking for myself, I don’t think that I would look at that advertisement and think, “Man, I’ve got to buy something from this company!”

I’m not going to start on the bikini socks, because frankly, I’m just at a loss.  I don’t know where to start on that one.

Yeah, there are people out there saying that it’s no big deal.  There are people saying that they admire attractive people of any gender, or enjoy looking at a beautiful woman.  (Red Herring is for sale in the freezer section).  I suspect that those people just don’t get it.

Frankly, I suspect that I don’t get it either, not nearly to the degree that someone who has been objectified and demeaned because of their gender.  But I’m writing to say that I share the assessment that the Chrome advertisement and the Interbike socks are both in really poor taste, and that those who defend them–or who offer a “sorry, not sorry” apology like Chrome does–that those people are missing the boat.  Any objective view of Chrome’s ad would be that it was a highly sexualized, overly processed photograph of a topless female model, leaning over to hand something to two smiling men on a sidewalk, to associate Chrome with sex.  The photo is so processed as to render it impossible to even recognize that the model has Chrome wares with her.  The focus is not the products, or irony, or social critique.  The focus is a topless woman–and whatever whatever, but there’s no indication that she’s engaged in any form of public discourse or dialogue on women’s rights.  She was hired because she’s an attractive woman who would walk around topless in an urban environment, for the purpose of taking a photograph to use in a commercial to sell products.  That’s the objective read.  Either Chrome is cool with that–as many companies apparently are–or they’re not.  But it’s disingenuous to claim that this was not their intent, or to apologize to those who are offended.

So thanks to those who have broadened my worldview.  And thanks to Christina for writing what she wrote.  I’m with you.

The Mandem.

Jean Claude ManDamme.

Yes.  The Mandem.

Screen Shot 2015-08-30 at 12.11.51 PMScreen Shot 2015-08-30 at 12.15.24 PMMore specifically, it’s a Ritchey Breakaway tandem.  All steel, and built as a breakaway; it breaks down into 3 components (front triangle fore of the captain’s seatpost (red), mid section from captain’s seatpost back to stoker’s seatpost (white) and rear triangle (blue)).  I’ll go into build details at some point in the future, but the relevant data is that it’s an all drive-side tandem (single chainring up front, triple in the rear–the outboard chainring on the rear goes to the captain’s chainring, and the inner 2 chainrings on the rear are used as a 2×10 drivetrain to power the bike).  An eccentric captain’s BB handles chain tension duties.  Brakes are currently a set of 1st Gen BB7s that are awful; a set of TRP Hy-Rds is sitting in the box, awaiting install.  Big 180mm rotors handle the slowing down.   Contact points are all top-notch…Cambium saddles, Fizik Bars and tape, Crank Brothers pedals.  For the stoker, a set of Fizik carbon flat mountain bars with bar-ends, and with taped grips, provides comfort. So what do you do with a Mandem? Obviously, you bro-it out.   11920372_10204700690381842_1120105312_nAnd then you hammer.   11880990_10204700690181837_11128513_nThe Mandem was built up with my good friend Brendan.  We’ve only had it out a handful of times now, and it’s ridiculously fun to ride.  When we both put our minds to it, the mandem is ridiculously fast on a flat surface.  Descents are dangerously fast.  Climbs…well, we’re still working on those.

The Ritchey frame is a masterpiece.  It’s not only beautiful, but amazingly rigid.  The ride quality is perfection.  There’s no lateral whip, and while it has some vertical compliance, it isn’t noodlely as I had feared it might be.  You do have to pay attention to tire pressure; if that gets at all low, the rear of the bike wanders around as the tire deflects.

As a stoker, it’s been a new experience.  There’s no steering from the back, so you just have to have confidence in the captain.  My job is to pay attention to the little cues from the captain (a smidge of back pressure means slowing…watch for the cue to unclip and stop…synchronize the clip-in and pedal, etc.).  I try to be neutral in terms of cornering, letting the captain control the bike…and on sharper corners, providing a natural lean to compliment, rather than upset, the status quo.

There are times when it’s way easier to pedal than I expect…and times where it’s surprisingly challenging.  Brendan’s a great bike-handler, so even things like car-control gates and tight switchbacks are not a problem.  The Ritchey is designed to handle 700c wheels and also 27.5 mountain bike setups, so it’s got tire clearance for days.

The weirdest thing is the reduced feedback while pedaling.  When riding solo, if you push harder, the bike immediately responds.  You can sense how hard you’re working based on the response of the bike, changes in speed, etc.  If you need to stand and pedal, you stand and pedal.  If you want to increase or reduce cadence, you shift.  On the Mandem, that’s not really how it works.  It’s hard to know exactly how hard you are pedaling.  (In some ways, having power pedals would be intensely helpful for the stoker…at times I find myself pushing really hard and not realizing it).  It sounds ridiculous (you should be able to tell how hard you’re pedaling a bike), but it’s disconcerting.

At night, the sensation of speed is crazy.  Not only do you have darkness, but you have limited forward visibility.  All you see is trees rushing past.  It takes some adjustment.

The Mandem might be the most fun bike I’ve ever ridden on a flat road.  It turns a regular ride into an experience.  I really enjoy riding bikes with others–and it brings  cooperation into a whole new dimension.  It’s a stunningly beautiful bike.

I’ve realized more and more that biking is a social experience for me.  I love the places you go, the scenery you see, the sense of accomplishment from a hard ride well-ridden, sure.  I get satisfaction out of good solo training rides that I do.  But ultimately, I train so that I can ride with others, and not hold them back.  If my riding was all solo, I don’t know that I’d do it.  I’d much rather ride in an event with a team and enjoy it, than ride a solo event and win acclaim.  I spend enough of my non-biking life in other contexts.  For me, bikes are a way to come together with friends and share experiences.  The Mandem is the ultimate expression of that concept.

No longer Trek’ing to the store.

In case you missed it, Trek has announced that they are going to start selling bicycles online.  In short, customers will be able to buy a bike online, and then the bike is delivered to a local Trek dealer of their choosing.  Trek will pay the local shop a “service commission” roughly equal to 80% of their normal margin on a bike sale.

I’m not a bike dealer, I’m a consumer.  Frankly, I find this move appalling.  Appalling enough that it makes me think long and hard about ever buying another Trek.  I’m sure that Trek feels that this is the wave of the future, and that they have to compete with other brands that are selling direct to consumer.  In my opinion, it is a great disservice to their dealers.

Until now, Trek has prohibited selling new bikes online.  A few years ago, I found a rare trek frameset that I wanted to buy–it was a several-year-old model that isn’t produced anymore, and there was one left in the Country, at a shop in Florida.  I contacted that shop, and they literally could not sell me the bike, over the phone or internet, because of Trek’s dealer restrictions.  We go from that arrangement of incredible restrictions…to Trek selling bikes online directly itself.

I’m guessing that Trek’s arguments are along these lines:

Shops still get 80% of their margin.

That’s true.  Shops still get 80% of the margin.  *(“Roughly 80%.”  Note the comment from someone indicating that they are a Trek dealer below; payments provided not as cash, but as a credit against the shop’s Trek account, 3x/year.  Ouch.)  But shops lose the ability to choose what products they sell.  A shop may choose not to sell some closeout bikes, or may choose not to stock certain bike lines, because even at 100% of margin, there isn’t enough profit in the sale to warrant the expense of carrying that particular bike.  They may choose not to sell certain bikes because of poor experiences with that model, or because they lack the expertise or interest in selling a given model or type of bike.  That option is now gone.  Shops have lost the ability to determine what they will and will not sell.

Shops have historically placed orders based upon knowledge of local conditions–how many hybrids, road bikes, mountain bikes, etc., that they’ll sell.  That historical information is now out the window, as the shops still have to place their pre-season orders, but now they have no idea how many of their customers will place an order online, rather than through the shop.  Think about it: if a shop pre-orders 200 bikes, and 10% of their customers buy online, the shop will be left with 20 extra bikes at the end of the year.  It places shops in direct competition with Trek for the sale.

I’m sure Trek justifies the 20% reduction in margin by saying that it is “doing the work” of selling bikes for the shops.  Frankly, that’s just Trek eating 20% of the shop’s (already thin) margins.  The shop still has to market itself, still has to have sales staff, still has to have mechanics, and still has to have new bikes on the floor.  The shop still has to do everything it did before Trek sold bikes online–and bear all of the same overhead and expense.  If a customer walks in to buy a bike, the shop can’t say, “you can look and order it online.”  So shops still have the same expense, and less revenue to cover it, because now, some portion of their bikes will be sold online, at a lessened margin.  From Trek’s perspective, their investment of updating the website to add a “buy now” link is minimal.  They can gobble up shop margin as corporate profit, which is pure win for them.  More profit for Trek corporate, on the backs of local bike shops.

And what happens when there’s warranty work to be done?  What happens when a customer (invariably) buys the wrong size bike online and has to exchange it?  Who deals with all of the issues associated with buying something as particular in fit as a bicycle?  Does Trek handle those online?  Of course not.  Those tasks go to the shop.  Buying online greatly increases the likelihood that a customer will select the wrong size bike, or even the wrong type of bike.  Selling a bike is a personal experience.  When done properly, a shop evaluates the customer’s needs, their physical build, their desires, and their budget, and puts together the right bike for the need.  There have been many times when what I’ve thought I wanted turned out to not be what I ended up getting–because I received valuable advice from my local bike shop that guided my decision.  There have been many times when the fit and size I thought I needed turned out to be wrong, and local fit advice was invaluable.  (For that matter, what happens with returns?  A lot of shops have restocking fees, particularly on custom orders.  Does the shop get stuck with an online order that is returned, or does it go back to Trek?  (And if it goes back to Trek, does that mean that the shop receives, builds and delivers bike, then unbuilds and ships the bike back, and receives no income?)

Selling bikes online suggests that there is no need for that local expertise…a customer should be able to pick their own bike and fit themselves; there’s no need for an experienced, knowledgeable local contact to help with those processes.  That’s just flatly wrong.  I’m a pretty informed, educated bike consumer.  But the more I learn, the more I value the advice and consultation from a local bike shop.  So Trek increases the likelihood that customers will make bad decisions and be unhappy with their bikes, or will require extensive fit work or exchanges, and then Trek reduces dealer margins on the bikes.  Trek is inventing new problems for dealers, all while reducing their margins.

Delivery still occurs through a local shop.

Yup.  The local shop still has to deal with all of the issues, as described above, while earning reduced margins and likely dealing with more problems.

Service and accessories are the new markets for local bike shops.

It’s true–if you follow Bike Retailer and Industry News, there’s a lot of smart people saying that the next frontier of bike shops will be service, accessories and experience-based revenues (trips, etc.).  Margins on bike sales are already thin.  So I’m sure Trek is telling dealers that when a customer comes in to pick up their online purchase, the dealer can upsell with accessories and baubles.

As a customer, I can tell you that when making a bike purchase, it’s mentally easier to make one purchase than it is to make two.  It’s easier for me to make one purchase for a bike, with bottle cages, seatbag, and any other accessories I want, than it is to make one big purchase for a bike, followed by a dribble of smaller purchases.  It is purely a mental issue, but it is one that I suspect is not unique to me.  I suspect that making the bike purchase online will reduce the amount of accessories that accompany each bike sale.  Customers will come in to pick up their online purchase, and will view upselling at that point as a nuisance.

I could keep writing about this, expanding on the points above, but essentially, my view is that this hurts Trek in the long-term, as it will enhance short-term profits on the backs of its dealers, and will diminish the value of dealers as experts in their craft.  When a bike is just a commodity that can be bought or sold online, what’s the difference between buying at a LBS or buying on Amazon…or Walmart?  From my personal perspective, seeing a bike manufacturer dishonor the concept of a local bike shop so significantly makes me sad.  I don’t buy ‘direct to consumer’ bikes (unless there is literally no other option), because I value the local bike shop, and the meaningful input that they have on the experience of buying a bike.  I value the local bike shop because I want them to be there when I have a problem, or when I need service.  I’ve written about that before–I see local bike shops as community partners, and as employers of people who need to earn reasonable wages.  I’d much rather my dollars went to a local shop, than to a corporate behemoth.  For that matter, I’d rather make sure I get the right bike, in the right size, by benefitting from local expertise and experience…than buy a bike online and get frustrated by ending up with the wrong commodity.

If this is the industry trend, then it’s a race.  To the bottom.  When next I’m in the market for a new bike, this is a move by Trek that will influence my decision, and will influence it away from buying a Trek.  Go order a Fuel.  Or a Fezzari.

Two brief notes in update: 1) I did recently purchase a bike online, for my daughter.  That purchase was completed only after conducting an exhaustive search of local bike shops, and finding that I literally could not get the bike I needed for her locally.  2) I’m not a Trek hater generally.  Many of my posts on here are very Trek-positive–I own 2 very high-end Trek bikes that I love, and I shop at a Trek bike shop.  I do have to say, though, that of late, I’ve been questioning their corporate judgment.  Between this and the recent skewer recall, which I wrote about here and here, I’m not sure what they’re thinking.


From time to time, I see people writing that it’s dumb to wear bike helmets, and that groups which require helmets to be worn when riding bikes are engaged in counter-productive behavior.  The logic espoused behind such statements tends to focus on one of a few arguments.  I’ll outline, and briefly respond below.

1)  Bike helmets cause and exacerbate injuries.

I have yet to see a single, creditable, peer-reviewed article suggesting that modern bike helmets pose greater risk than reward, overall.  Certainly, old foam bike helmets without a hard shell could catch on rough surfaces and cause neck injuries; that problem has been eliminated with modern helmet design.  I’m sure that in some weird context, you could design a circumstance where a helmet would case more harm than good.  On the whole, those weird circumstances simply don’t support an argument that helmets are bad.  Even a quick google search will yield a multitude of creditable studies showing the benefits of helmet use.

2)  Bike helmets reduce bike ridership, and thus overall hurt individual health.

If you’re so lazy or egomaniacal that wearing a helmet keeps you from riding a bike, then I really don’t believe that it’s wearing a helmet that keeps you from riding a bike.  A helmet may be a convenient excuse, but honestly, if you’re out of shape, being out of shape probably has a greater impact on your appearance to others than does the presence or absence of a helmet on your head.  I tend to believe that this is anecdotal and largely made up.  And if it’s not, then you deserve the consequences of not exercising.

3)  Countries with ingrained cycling culture do not engage in extensive use of bike helmets, and hence, bike helmets are unnecessary.

This is true–many cycling cultures do not espouse serious helmet use for transportation cycling (e.g. commuting).  Note that even cycling cultures use helmets for race and sport.  The fact that some cultures do not use helmets does not make helmets any less effective. If they used helmets, they’d have even fewer injuries–which is a hard benefit to argue against.  Also note that cultures which espouse cycling in far greater numbers also have far more drivers that are also cyclists.  And drivers who are not cyclists were raised in a culture of cycling.  Perhaps it is the case that their roads are safer for cyclists not because they don’t wear helmets, but because they accept cyclists and treat them with respect.

4)  The Man shouldn’t tell me I have to do anything.

I don’t think I’ve seen mandatory bike helmet laws, and I’m not speaking in support of them.

5)  Wearing a bike helmet makes drivers more aggressive towards you.

This seems to be an emerging argument.  “I want drivers to see me as a frail human, so I’m not wearing a helmet.”  I would be curious if there is any real science behind this.  If there isn’t then, it’s BS.  If there is, then it’s terrifying what that says about our culture.  Regardless, how is it logical to decline to use safety equipment because you think it may cause others to treat you with more caution?  Should we ride at night without lights, because drivers may think we’re crazy and cut us a wider pass?  Do we leave our bikes unlocked, because thieves will think our bikes aren’t worth stealing?  I just fundamentally don’t get the logic behind this argument…  I wear a helmet not because I think it makes drivers more hostile to me, but because I’m protecting against the consequences of a true accident.  I see far more cyclists injured from bike accidents than from intentional, homicidal car drivers swerving towards people wearing helmets.

6)  We don’t wear helmets when walking or driving a car, so why should we wear a helmet while biking?

There are different levels of risk in driving a car, walking and riding a bike.  And some, like my friend Chad G, do wear helmets while driving.

But in all seriousness, there’s a quantifiable difference between driving a 4,000 pound steel box with seatbelts, ABS and airbags, and riding a bike surrounded by others driving cars…  There’s a quantifiable difference between walking down the sidewalk and riding a bike at 20mph on 2 contact patches the size of a dime.  Risk versus reward.

In the past 12 months, I’ve personally seen the following accidents:

1)  Friend who is a lifelong, avid cyclist wipes out on gravel, and lands on his head.  Ends up with a wasted helmet and a headache.  In the absence of a helmet, this fall would have resulted in serious injury.

2)  I endo’d off of a mountain bike and landed on a rock, headfirst.  I dented my helmet and left an imprint of the inside of my helmet on my forehead.  I can say with every confidence, having fallen on rocks without a helmet before, that in the absence of a helmet, I would have had stitches at the best case scenario, and a skull fracture at the worst.

3)  Friend hits a rock on the street, riding a road bike, and slides down the pavement, partially on his head.  Helmet is scraped down by pavement.  Friend endures road rash.  Friend’s face comes out unscathed, protected by helmet.

4)  Friend hits another cyclist on the street, riding a road bike.  He endo’s, front-rolls across the ground across his helmeted head, and lands on his feet.  In the absence of a helmet, serious injury would have resulted.

Those don’t include the countless fatbike wipeouts on snow and ice, where people hit their heads and walk away unscathed. They don’t include my own fatbike wipeout last year, where I fractured three vertebrae but my head was protected by a helmet.

And the one that’s closest to home:

My daughter, learning to ride a bike.  She’s been riding without training wheels for about a year.  We’re riding in a nature preserve, on a paved surface, down a small hill.  Something freaks her out and she bobbles the handlebars–and wipes out.  I watch her launch off the bike, hard, landing in a superman pose with her helmet down on the ground.  The visor on her helmet snaps off (as it is designed to), and she slides on the ground a bit.  She skins her hand, her knee, and the very tip of her nose.

In the absence of a helmet, she would have landed with her face flat on the pavement, sliding forward.  She would have lost skin, and likely broken her nose (and possibly some teeth).  She would have peeled her forehead right off.  Her helmet saved her from serious injury.  This wasn’t a race.  We weren’t riding fast.  The surface was dry, hard and clear from debris.  There was no outside force or car or anything else that threatened her.  It was pure accident.

The helmet saved her. She landed hard enough that the helmet was permanently deformed.

IMG_3161And this is the only injury she suffered. IMG_3156

Afterwards, she was rewarded with a new helmet.


Scars heal.  Lu’s scar is gone already.  Brain injuries are forever.  Thanks to Bontrager for keeping my daughter safe.  Thanks to Kask for keeping my friends safe.  Thanks to helmet manufacturers everywhere, for constantly improving the quality and efficacy of helmet design.

Continental Grand Prix 4000 S II Tire Review (700c x 25)

Over the years, I’ve run quite a few different road tires.  I’ve run Vittorias, Michelin, Schwalbe, Bontrager, etc.  I’ve spent a lot of time on Bontragers over the past few years.  I had a set of R4s that came on my Madone (they lasted less than 1,000 miles), and I’ve spent a lot of time on R3s, both on the Madone and on the Ridley.  R3s have served me admirably, and I usually get 2-3,000 miles out of a set, rotating front to rear, and usually wearing out when the rear gets a flat band down the middle.  I had heard good things about the Continental GP4000s, but would never consider moving to them, because they’re heavy and slow rolling.  That, and I would never switch from a 23c tire, because my ENVE wheels are set up for maximum aero effect with 23s.

Never say never.

It turns out that the weight difference between the Contis in 25c and the R3s in 25c is about the weight of a third of an ounce of water.  As in 1/70th of a bottle of water.  So there goes the weight argument.

As for 23s versus 25s, I had some friends convert to 25s and talk about greater comfort and traction.  I figured they were full of it, but tried it out anyhow.  Because I’m a sucker for trying things out.

At my weight (about 155# right now), I run about 90psi front and rear with 25s.  With 23s, I ran about 100psi.  I probably could have run the 23s with a smidge less, but the 25s look really happy at 90psi, and 23s just didn’t.  Whether that’s the construction of the Contis versus Bontragers, whether that’s the tire size difference, or whether it’s all in my head, I don’t know.  In any event, the Contis are happy at 90.

The difference in ride between 25s at 90psi and 23s at 100 psi is HUGE.  Honestly, for a high-modulus carbon frame, the Madone rides ridiculously good.  It takes the edge off of hard jolts in a very satisfying, very premium-feeling way.  Running 25s on it at 90psi feels even better.  I’m amazed at how well it has tamed chipseal and other crappy road surfaces.  So score one for lower pressure and wider tires.

If there is an aerodynamic difference, I can’t tell it.

For rolling resistance, I didn’t have any complaints about the R3s, but if I had to guess, the lower pressure on the GP4000s contributes to lower rolling resistance on road surfaces that are less than perfect.  They feel faster on chipseal, for example.

For cornering on dry surfaces, I can’t tell a difference, beyond the bump absorption.  A mid-corner pavement crack is far less likely to upset the bike with 25s at 90psi.  (From here on out, if I say “with 25s”, read that as “with 25s at 90psi”).  99.9% of the time, there’s no difference.  That other 0.01% of the time, there may be a difference.  I hit a corner hard a couple weeks ago, and hit gravel mid-turn.  The bike skidded on the gravel and I thought I was going to low-side.  It skidded over the gravel, caught dry pavement, regained traction progressively and predictably (so I didn’t high-side), and kept tracking around the corner.  Impressive.

For wet surfaces, there is a palpable difference.  This year, we’ve had a ton of rain in Illinois, and I’ve been riding in it.  There is absolutely no question in my mind that there is a quantifiable, objectively measurable difference in wet road traction, coming from R3s to the GP4000s.  It’s a pretty significant difference.

As far as wear goes, I’m closing in on 800 miles on the GP4000s.  The front tire still has a small casting ridge down the center.  The back looks perfect, with no casting ridge.  I look forward to seeing how they wear, but thus far, it’s pretty impressive.  The GPs have 2 neat little wear indicator holes that tell you how much useful rubber is left on them, which I greatly enjoy.  By comparison, the R3s would have the start of a flat band down the rear by this point in time.

Flat resistance has been fine.  I don’t ordinarily get flats.  I had one flat with my last set of R3s (small nail), and I’ve had one flat with the GP4000s (construction staple).  I attribute those to living in a neighborhood with construction, more than to the merits of either tire.

So in short, after ~800 miles, the GP4000s have equal or better traction in dry, better traction in wet, appear to have better longevity, have better riding comfort, possibly lower rolling resistance (subjective), and no noticeable change in aerodynamics.  So for someone who would never go to a heavy, 25c tire, I’ve been pleasantly surprised to find that the GP4000 S II is not heavy, and is pretty fantastic as a road tire on my Madone.  I can’t see going back to either 23c tires, or Bontrager R3s after this experience.

And so you’re saying, “you went to a wider tire and lower pressures, and you’re praising the tire for all of these benefits?”

Well, yeah.

The Bontragers couldn’t be run at 90psi.  I had tried them.  No bueno.  Too much flex–handling started feeling funky, and the sidewalls didn’t look happy.  Because I wanted to have something of a fair comparison, I tried running a set of my old R3s at a little lower pressure, in the rain, to see how they felt, and to ascertain whether pressure was the factor leading to better wet traction.  It wasn’t.  The R3s still didn’t perform as well in wet weather.

In fairness, I haven’t tried R3s in 25c, but I have compared my GP4000s to R3s, mounted on similar wheels, and I think the GP4000s might be a smidge wider than R3s, comparing 25c to 25c.  And after seeing the benefits of the GP4000 in terms of wear and wet traction–which I attribute in significant measure to tire design, rather than pressure, I think the GP4000 is a superior tire.  And I’m pretty darn happy with it.  I don’t see going back to any other road tire at this point.

As one final point of comparison, prior to running Bontragers, my favorite tires were Schwalbes.  I preferred Schwalbes to Vittorias, for example.  I’d rate Schwalbe tires as being relatively comparable to Bontragers (all clinchers)–for example comparing R3s to the Schwalbe One, and comparing R4s to the Schwalbe Ultremo.  I don’t have any good stories about Vittoria clinchers, and don’t count them in the running.  So as of the present, my preference is for the GP4000 S II, then Bontrager R3 or Schwalbe One, and then Bontrager R4 or Schwalbe Ultremo (with that last group being offered only if you like changing tires a lot).

Good tires.  Recommended.