Book Review

April 18, 2008

The conclusion of the Civil War marked the beginning of the cycling’s golden age.  Races and racers captivated the United States public.  Decades before Jackie Robinson broke Baseball’s color barrier there was Major Taylor.

About a year ago, during Black History month, my 10 year old son chose to write about a champion cyclist named Major Taylor. I was so moved by the essay that, with his permission, I posted it here. I had not heard of Major Taylor which saddened me to know that such a presence on the international sports scene had been forgotten.  Now comes a book that documents the life of this exceptional cyclist.

Todd Balf’s Major: A Black Athlete, A White Era, and the Fight to be the World’s Fastest Human Being documents that lost era of cycling and the heroes that were lost with it.  What makes this a fascinating book is that it is not about cycling, race, post civil war reconstruction.  And yet it is. 

Balf uses all of these lenses to tell us about an era of our Nation’s history which does not take up a lot of space in history books.  During this time, there was a perfect storm for cycling.  The advent of the pneumatic tube, lightweight bikes, bad roads, good lights, a public craving competition all led to the explosion of track racing. 

From the 1870′s to just after the turn of the century, the bicycle ruled the sporting world.  Balf captures this era with an easy style that follows Major Taylor’s life from his youth in Indianapolis to his ascendancy to the world stage. 

Every good story nees a villan which came from the Virginia-born Floyd McFarland. Each man pushed the other to new heights.  In the end, Major Taylor transcended sport to become a role model for generations to come.

I hope you read this fascinating book that revives a lost era and a lost hero.


I’m Back

April 16, 2008

I know I have taken a couple of sabbaticals in the last six months.  This one by far is the longest.  But I have an excuse, I promise.  Contributing to the delay has been some behind the scenes work that has allowed my to put my money where my mouth is. 

Anyone who reads this blog knows that I am passionate about the sport of cycling.  It is the most beautiful sport on the planet and it has withstood several years of non stop assualt.  While I think we have turned a corner, the sport is at a severe low in public opinion.  Therefore, I needed to do my part to help rebuild this sport.

Please note, my contribution is minimal at best.  I can’t let that stop me from doing anything I can.  Since the beginning of the year, I have been giving whatever help I can to several good people.  From trying to find a sponsor for a major ProTour race in Europe, helping a ProTour team get in contact with US sponsors to helping a great race continue to grow.

That great race is the Great River Energy Bicycle Festival.  aka The Nature Valley Grand Prix.  This race showcases what is great in cycling.  The folks putting on this race have done a lot of innovative things to broaden the appeal of cycling.  Look at the race design.  It does not try to replicate a classic European stage race.  It also does not run away from the appeal of European racing.  They have blended the best of European cycling stage races with American cycling stalwarts like the criterium.  This has created a race that is challenging to the riders as well as friendly to fans of all knowledge levels.

To bring in fans even more, they have done things like have volunteerswalk around in brightly colored shirts saying “Ask Me About Cycling” How many times have you increased a friends enjoyment of the Tour de France by explaining a simple concept like drafting. 

This year, the race wanted to use more social networking tools such as blogging.  Here is where I hoped to add a very small amount of help. This year, the Nature Valley Grand Prix has instituted two blogs.  The first is the Your Cycling blog sponsored by TRIA Orthopaedic group. This is a great Cycling 101 blog.  The second is for us race junkies.  It is called Pro Cycling Minnesota and has contributor list that is the who’s who of US cycling both men and women.

The design and content are the work of smart and dedicated people. Check it out, comment, join the discussion by adding your insights.  Show our future fans what kind of a community we are.

Oh, and buy Nature Vallley granola bars.  Tell them cycling sent you.


Bringing down the curtain on 2007

October 12, 2007

So, if the 2007 cycling season was a play, how would you review it? Here is how I would begin to organize my thoughts.

The play started with some fine acting in the early acts . Hometown boy takes the Tour of California. With a performance like this so early in the play, I was wondering what the writers had in store for the rest of the evening.

We also see a new actor in Albertor Contador steal the scene titled “Paris-Nice.” With acting talent like this, I hope to see more of him.

After some promising numbers early on,the writers introduce very complex storylines. Villains start entering from every direction. ASO, UCI, WADA, USADA, RCS Sport, and Unipublic all vie for center stage and the competition for the spotlight detracts from the play.

Then, the writers start killing off the main characters. Basso and Vino go down in a bloody mess making me think I was in a bad remake of a Shakespearian play. The writers try to bring back early hero, Contador, to save the play but to no avail. There is too much confusion, too many storylines. Much of the audience did not come back after intermission.

Then as if the play was not complex enough, the writers bring the back story of a fallen hero, Floyd, who is attempting to combat injustice of some of our main villains.

The play runs for another week or so when it closes in Lombardy on the 20th.  If this play is to shine on Broadway in 2008, it needs some major attention.


Rest Day Book Review

July 24, 2007

I’ve been mulling over how to write this review since I finished Bill Strickland’s new book, Ten Points. I have been searching for that one word that I can use to describe it and have been at a loss. Interesting, engaging are all accurate but do not capture the essence I am trying to convey. For now, I’ll use memorable.

Before I start, I would like to thank Chloe and Christine at Hyperion for contacting me regarding this book. I’m sure I would have read it but I don’t know when I would have found it.

Do you know why Breaking Away was and is such a great movie? Well to paraphrase another book, it is because the story is not about the bike. The movie uses cycling as a medium for telling a much more universal story. That is the same here. Bill Strickland uses his quest for ten points during his club crit season as a medium to tell a much more compelling story.

At the end of a season where Bill Strickland cherishes first and only point he scored in a highly competitive Thursday night criteriums, he makes a fateful promise to his daughter. Next season, he’ll score ten.

The quest for ten points turns out to rank up with quests written by the likes of Homer. What if he fails? This forces Bill to do a significant amount of reflection and the story takes us through that reflection.

Whenever each of us is faced with a seemingly insurmountable challenge, it gives up the opportunity to look at ourselves and take stock in who we are. We can then stare into our personal abyss knowing if we can cross it, we can come out the other side better than we were before. Bill’s abyss is deeper and darker than most people on the planet.

Bill takes us with him as he faces his past and comes to grips with who he is. Since this is not Hollywood fiction, there is no Rocky type ending. Instead, he leaves us after coming a long way through his abyss but we know he will continue to move forward.

I don’t want to paint a grim picture. Bill’s style is engaging and the story, while uncomfortable at times, is tough to put down. Bill also paints a great portrait of life in the top tier of racers we watch at local races. As the author grows as a person, he grows as a racer which is enjoyable to read.

I would definitely put this as a must read on your list.


Book Review

July 22, 2007

When I was contacted by Eleanor Divver from Three Story Press regarding an opportunity to obtain an early copy of Saul Raisin and Dave Shield’s new book, Tour de Life:From Coma to Competition, I jumped at it. I have been looking forward to reading the combination of Dave Shield’s cycling prose and the incredible story of Saul Raisin who just over a year ago was fighting for his life after a crash at the Circuit de la Sarthe.

The book is actually two books in one. The first section is written in the third person focusing on Saul’s parents starting with that fateful day on April 4, 2006. From the moment the traditional text message “OK” never appeared on Yvonne Raisin’s cell phone, she knew something was wrong. Her son, Saul always sent those two reassuring letters to his mother after every race.

The first 136 pages chronicle the journey of Yvonne and Jim Raisin from a recently retired couple planning their future together to a frightened couple in a foreign land trying to save their son’s life. Jim and Yvonne find themselves in Angers France where they do not speak the language nor understand the customs. If they are to save their son, they need to learn and learn fast.

I was struck by the detail and day by day account of a family going through such a trauma. Generally, we seen the first few critical hours followed by the hospital discharge. We rarely see the hour by hour roller coaster ride that a family goes through. Unending tension wondering if Saul would survive the day. If so, would he be a vegetable? Also, the conflicting early medical information. Did they remove part of Saul’s brain or not? Finally how do you begin the conversation about when to pull the plug and of organ donation?

We see that minuscule progress, invisible to passers-by, can ignite hope. A twitch of a finger, a small movement. Finally it is clear that Saul will live so the question becomes how.

The second book is written in the first person. Saul’s voice. But the book captures Saul as he is those first early days and weeks after he comes out of his coma. I did not know that quite often brain injured patients need to relearn things that we learn as a child. Things such as controlling emotions, understanding voice inflection and that you can not always say whatever pops in your mind.

We hear the voice of this man/child as he tries to understand why he can’t always tell the nurses they are attractive, why he can’t act impulsively, and that he may never walk unaided let alone ride again.

Saul makes physical progress at a miraculous pace. We watch as the real struggle comes with the mental rehabilitation. Basic math, reasoning and decision making skills are tough. Equally amazing is the dedication of the members of the rehabilitation hospital, the Shepherd Center. I’m certain these people are not adequately compensated for the wonderful work they do.

It was amazing to read the details behind this truly amazing story

Dave Shields is selling early copies of Tour de Life through his website. The book will not be widely distributed through outlets like Amazon until September. Either way, I would suggest buying through the website since I think Amazon is doing OK and any additional percentage not shared with Amazon can go to those who did all the hard work binging this book to market.


Product Review

July 3, 2007

Things you don’t come between.

  1. Mother bear and cub
  2. Chuck Schumer and a TV camera
  3. A cyclist and his/her shorts

I have my everyday shorts and I have my long-ride-I feel-good-I treated-myself-to-these shorts. The later shorts are the Assos FI Mille shorts. I actually bought two pair, one in 2005 and one more in 2006. I think I am still paying them off. All my other shorts go into the hamper for washing by anyone in any way they desire. My Assos shorts never leave my sight until clean and put to bed in my cycling drawer. They are washed with care generally reserved for newborn baby clothes and other high value items. I once caught my wife putting them into the dryer with the other shorts. After she realized that my shriek was not due to a life threatening injury, she asked why these shorts were so special.

I tried to explain how they feel, how they worked but as a non cyclist, she didn’t understand. So I told her how much they cost. Her first reaction was horror at almost ruining the shorts. A second later her next reaction was “You spent what?!”

Competitive Cyclist has an excellent review on the two shorts in the Assos line. All I can do is quote Ferris Bueller. “If you have the means, I highly recommend picking one up.”


Just in time for Summer Reading

June 26, 2007

Anticipation, Anticipation
Is making me late
Is keeping me waiting Carly Simon

I can’t remember when the last time the only thing on my mind coming home was “Did the mail come?” “Is there anything for me?” Probably when I was a kid and after saving the required boxtops, enclosing the required shipping and handling I would start this process at 6 weeks into the 6 – 8 week delivery period.

What is causing this feeling? Dave Shields new tome. Tour de Life: From Coma to Competition. I have an early copy on the way and I can’t wait to get my hands on it, read and review it. “Was that the mail truck?” Sorry, I got distracted.

You know that I am a fan of Mr. Shields style and ability. Combine his skill with the incredible story of Saul Raisin and you are virtually guaranteed an incredible read. Saul is setting new standards in recovering from traumatic brain injurt suffered just a year ago at the Circuit de la Sarthe.

In a time when cycling is bereft of good news stories, this surely is one to savor.

I’ll let you know when I get it.


Nike and Trek agree to see other people

April 28, 2007

Now that the home is empty as Lance has moved out on his own, Nike and Trek have realized that they have grown apart. Faced with severe “empty nest” syndrome, they have decided that it is time to split. After 2007, Trek will no longer be the exclusive distributor of Nike Cycling attire.

Why does this distribution agreement warrant a post? Actually, I believe that this is a signal of Nike’s quiet retreat from cycling. If that is the case, we don’t see the boys and girls from Beaverton Or walk away with their tails between their legs very often. So, let’s dig deeper.

Lance Armstrong reinvigorated the cycling market with his 7 Tour wins. No company was a bigger recipient of this market growth than Trek. This is very easy to see. First the association. In cycling, no piece of equipment is as readily credited with helping in the success as the bike. All the other equipment, save the time trialing skinsuit (more on that later), is merely window dressing on the person and the bike partnership.  Second, Trek showed us some very tangible improvements in the bike itself making us believers in Trek’s role in the Lance Armstrong phenomenon.   For example, Trek was one of the leaders of the Carbon Revolution, it made forks with no rake standard, and it formed a unique symbiotic relationship with Mr. Millimeter.

This is an association that Nike should understand. A company whose roots are in running has been on the receiving end of this kind of synergy.  Having the main piece of athletic equipment, the shoes, taking partial credit for an athlete’s success. They have also shown technological advances in the science of shoes as athletic improvement devices. Think Nike Air.

From that association was born Nike’s philosophy of Athlete endorsements. From Bill Rogers and Alberto Salazar to Bo Jackson to LeBron James, Nike has liked the primary athletic equipment to the primary athlete. Of course, the ultimate partnership was with one Michael Jordan. This success built a strong brand and allowed Nike to charge a hefty premium.

When Nike entered cycling, it did so in an industry where shoes are not the primary equipment. Nike also introduced clothing. Outside of trademarking the terms Dri-FIT and Sphere Dry, it gave us nothing tangible that we could touch, see, attach our feelings of athletic accomplishments. Yet they wanted a premium.

The only area where Nike really stood out is in the time trial skinsuit. Taking tons of speed skating experience, Nike really took the leadership position here. The problem is I don’t see too many skinsuits on my club rides.

Relying on the endorsement method of marketing, Nike really did not gain the traction it was looking for. Tiger Woods wears Nike clothes and they sell well too. But while I may wear a Nike golf shirt to work, I will not wear a Discovery Channel jersey any day soon.

That leaves us with clothing that serves us only while we participate. Among riders, there are two potential markets that Nike could go after; Premium and Ultra Premium. In the Premium market, you have a lot of very good and established brands. Brands like Pearl Izumi and Giordana come to mind. I would put Nike quality up against any of these brands. Unfortunately, Nike prices it’s products in the Ultra Premium market with brands like assos. Assos has two things Nike does not. First, technically better clothing. Visual/tactile difference and while riding, assos is like no other. Second, the European/Swiss cache that hearkens to cycling’s European roots. The Nike brand equity has little carry over effect in cycling.

So the Nike formula is not working. Rather than trying to adopt a new strategy, they seem to be cursing cycling and moving on. I guess that there are bigger markets to conquer and they would rather spend their energy trying to take soccer from adidas.

Good Luck.


New Kid on the Block

April 13, 2007

Has this ever happened to you? On the first cool fall day, you pull out a pair of jeans that you have not worn in months. You put them on and straighten out the pockets by putting your hands into them. In one of those pockets, you feel something so you pull it out. In your hands is a long-forgotten $20 bill. Remember that feeling? A little unexpected find can make your day.

That’s waht happened yesterday. I was about to leave for the airport when my wife came home. She started off by saying that “I’m sure you already know about this but…” Normally, I do. I thank her for thinking of me and continue with my day. This time was different. She presented me with a new cycling magazine Road Bike Action Magazine. The premiere of a US based magazine dedicated to professional cycling.

The premiere issue has some standard yet interesting content. An interview with Lance Armstrong (If your US based, you have to have this), a review of 5 top bikes, A brief preview of the US circuit, and training tips. It also has Bob Roll as one of the contributors writing on 17 ways to lose the Tour.

All in all, it was well written and an interesting read. They seem to be positioning themselves between Bicycling (the “Cosmo” of cycling magazines) and VeloNews (The NYTimes? of US cycling magazines). I’m not sure how much content sits in this in between zone.

Some things they should consider. First, drop the ‘Action’ from the title. Sounds like a comic book. Second, add some reporting to the feature articles/interviews. How’s the US scene, how is the European scene?

I plan to watch this as it matures and finds it’s own rhythm.


Cycling.tv to launch new site

March 28, 2007

For those of you who tried to tune into to Milan-San Remo may have been able to see the new look Cycling.tv.  Some technical difficulties forced Cycling.tv to delay their upgrade.  So what’s coming?

Well, I’ve been fortunate enough to bee one of the beta testers of the new site and I’ll tell you that I’m pretty excited about the new look and some new features coming to a PC near you.

image6.jpg

First thing you will notice (click image to take a real good look) is a completely new look and feel.  The old window has been replaced by a nice matte black background.  This gives the nice HDTV feel.  Gone are the graphics along the bottom where you would need to scroll across and double click.  This actually has always been a pet peeve of mine.  Initially, I did not realize these were buttons.  There were no drop shadows and you were required to double-click to change channels.   Now, you will see clearly identifiable buttons down the left side of the screen showing you all that Cycling.tv has to offer. 

Cycling.tv did not stop with a nice new look.  Thery have added a host of new features.  Avone the video screen shown you some new features.  First is the Innertube which takes you to a new forum for viewers to chat/blog while watching a race. You can uploag videos here as well.  Nice touch to include some interactive capabilities the computer offers.  You also see Audio and Diaries sections along the top bar.

The real improvement is the Download Video feature. I’ve been screaming for this feature for sometime.  When I ride on a trainer, sometimes my wireless network gets cranky and watching a laptop is difficult.  Also, when I travel, I wouldn’t mind choosing Paris-Roubaix over the in-flight movie. Downloading is done through Veoh a online video service.

Other user friendly improvements include the search, schedule, and settings all in easy to find and access locations.

This is the part of a review where you say what you would like to see improved.  I’ll confine my comments to two areas.  One significant and one pretty minor.  The significant item is every click on the channels or tabs up top, opens a new window.  Therefore, sometimes you have several channels running simultaneously.  You need to manually go back and close open windows when you get to the show you want to watch.  Hopefully this will be fixed in the production release.  The minor item is the download service.  Veoh requires you to download their proprietary player and plug-in.  Id’ ultimately like to see everything self containedd within the Cycling.tv player.   If not, I’d like to see a standard player used for the video.  I already have Quicktime, Windows Media Player, Intervideo DVD player, and Real.  I really don’t want another.  Also, the Veoh player is a bit intrusive by installing plug ins in my browser and wanting to join my start up programs and launch every day.  You may want to visit it’s settings after downloading to fine tune this player.

As for formats.  I know Mac users had problems with the first edition of Cycling.tv.  I don’t own a Mac so I can’t tell you if you are in luck here.  I can tell Windows users that Cycling.tv beta performs wonderfully in both Internet Explorer and Firefox.

All in all it shows that Simon Brydon and his team have really developed a great product. You no longer have a reason not to subscribe to Cycling.tv.


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