Stuff that Flies

09.29.2006 | 9:57 pm

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An Open Letter to Assos

09.29.2006 | 3:59 pm

Dear Assos,

I subscribe to Velonews magazine, and have noticed that your ad (shown below for your convenience) has appeared in the premium inside-front cover spread for the past — oh, I dunno — maybe five thousand issues.

Assos, please believe that I have your best interests at heart when I beg you to pull this ad and replace it with something less ridiculous, such as a photo of a chimpanzee wearing a tutu.

Oh, you’d like justification for why I think this ad needs to be pulled? Well, if you insist.

Meet Derek Zoolander
Let’s start with the model. I have no problem with companies using models in their ads. But the model you have selected for your ad — and used throughout your website — clearly does not ride a bike. At all.

He does not have the cycling jersey tanlines. He has a chiseled upper body. Most tellingly, however, is he has silly little stick-like girly legs.

It’s possible, Assos, that I’m actually complaining about a conscious decision you made in picking a non-cyclist to show off your cycling garb. After all, your website seems to indicate that you’re really focusing on the non-cyclist part of the cyclist demographic. I quote:

“The less you ride, the more your body is fragile. The more you need garments that sustain and protect your body when riding your bicycle.”

So, if I understand correctly, your point is that people who ride a lot don’t need good bike clothes. People who rarely ride, however — or better yet, never ride at all — should buy your off-the-charts-expensive biking clothes. That’s a very original point of view, and you should be commended for it. Sadly, the originality of this point is offset by being one of the stupidest things I’ve ever read.

Luxury Body?
Assos, I admit: the heading in your ad, “Luxury body,” drew me in.I think I can safely say, though, that it drew me in for reasons other than what you would like. Essentially, it perplexed me. Here are some of the questions — questions I have no answer to — storming in my mind regarding your heading:

  • What is a “Luxury body?”
  • Why is “Luxury” capitalized, but “body” is not?
  • Will your clothes make my body luxurious?
  • Do I want a luxurious body? After all, I tend to look for luxury in my furniture. Having a “Luxury body” makes me think that I might be a good ottoman.

In search of these answers, I went to your website. Your explanation — if I can call it that — of Luxury body is:

“Assos is designed to give you the look, the style, the elegance & exclusivity. Assos enhances and makes you a luxury body!”

Assos, your explanation just leaves me with more questions. What look? What style? Who do I want to exclude? And that final sentence, ironically, gives new meaning to the word “meaningless.” Assos enhances what?

And, I repeat, what is a luxury body? Please tell me, Assos. I must know.

Lorem Ipsum
Assos, I wouldn’t have taken the time to write to you if your ad problems were limited to a silly model and a ridiculous headline.It was your ad body copy that sent me over the edge.One quick read-through convinced me that up until five minutes before this went to press, this was “lorem ipsum” text, used as placeholder whenever an ad designer doesn’t know what the body copy ought to be. Then, at the last moment, you realized your error, and hired the first non-English-speaker you could find to write “real” ad copy. Let’s take a look at that text, sentence by sentence.

  • It’s now! What’s now? I’m not asking just because this is vague, because if you actually described what is now later, I’d be OK with it. Or maybe you’re just pointing out a fundamental truth: no matter when you read this ad copy, you are reading it now. In which case I apologize.
  • You’ve finally made time to get on your bike and do something for your body and soul. Assos, do you realize what magazine this is in? It’s Velonews. Most people who read this magazine don’t “finally make time” to go ride. We go riding all the time, often at the expense of our careers and family life.
  • These days it’s a luxury to have time for yourself. Fair enough. I don’t see where you’re headed with this, though.
  • This time is your own, it’s about you and it’s your choice! Assos, this copy might work better in Cosmopolitan magazine. They’re really into the psychology of making a personal statement, or of having stuff be “about you.” Most people I ride with, on the other hand, go riding because it’s fun.
  • These moments are precious and should be treated as such. Here’s a tip, Assos: the next time you want to do an ad, get a writer with experience outside the Geriatric Birthday Greeting Card business.
  • Don’t spoil it by using ordinary equipment, which limits you and the entire experience. First off, Assos, I’m going to let you off the hook on your usage of “it” in this sentence, even though it’s a pretty jarring switch from plural (moments) to singular (it). And the reason I’m going to let you off the hook is because you clearly outsourced your ad copy writing to whoever writes those wacky quasi-English phrases for T-shirts in Japan. But are you really suggesting that ordinary equipment limits me, and my entire experience? Isn’t it at least possible that what’s limiting me — as the non-cycling cyclist you’ve identified as your prime demographic — is the fact that I only ride my bike when I can find one of those precious, luxurious moments, when I’ve finally made time to get on my bike?

Your ad copy problems aren’t limited to your ad, Assos. Check out some text right on the home page of your website (if one is willing to wait for all the Flash fireworks to finally die down):

“The Assos Mission is total comfort regardless of price. Definitely not for everybody, but maybe for YOU.”

Which is almost immediately followed by:

“Who needs Total Comfort? Everybody!”

So, if I read you right, total comfort isn’t for everybody, but it might be for me. On the other hand, everybody needs Total Comfort. Maybe the difference is in the capitalization?

Additional Questions
Assos, I have a few other brief ad-related questions I hope you can address:

  • Could you please change the name of your company? I know you’re Swiss and all, so you may not understand that you named your company something that reads and sounds just like an angry, obscene epithet. My young children are forbidden to pronounce your name.
  • What is a “Cycling Body?” Is that what a Luxury body aspires to become? Or is it the other way around?
  • They can ask anything else? In your website, you say, “When the development phase of a new Assos product begins, the one question our engineers, technicians, and tailors are not allowed to ask is: ‘How much must this product cost in order for it to sell in volume?’.” [emphasis, punctuation SIC] Is that really true? Like, it’s OK for them to ask, “What if we used a lot of sequins to make our jerseys really pop?” Or, “How about we make a chamois using nothing but magnesium rivets and barbed wire?” Or — and it looks like someone answered ‘yes’ to this last question — “Should we make a bike outfit that makes the wearer look like he just stepped out of an 80’s vintage Michael Jackson music video?”

Thank you for your time, Assos. I look forward to your resolving this matter in a timely manner.

Kind Regards,

The Fat Cyclist

PS: This doesn’t have anything to do with your ad, but I thought you’d get a kick out of an experience I had with one of your products, Assos. I once purchased a container of Assos Chamois cream, then applied it to my chamois just as I was about to begin a day-long mountain bike ride. Alas, I did not realize that one of the main ingredients in Assos Chamois Cream seems to be menthol, of approximately the same concentration as Ben Gay.

My nether regions were simultaneously aflame and freezing, which is nowhere near as nice a feeling as you might expect.

Wanting to make sure that I was not having a reaction nobody else would have, I hid my pain (exquisite though it was) and offered the container to everyone in the group, many of which thanked me for my generosity and applied your Chamois cream to their chamois’s as well. Their subsequent yelps of pain let me know that I was not alone in my reaction.

I probably don’t need to tell you that I did not finish the jar.

PPS: Assos, after writing and publishing this letter, I got a strongly-worded response from your defender and best friend, Dr. Michael Lammler. I highly recommend you read it.

7 Guys, 7 Single Speeds, 1 Perfect Day at Gooseberry

09.27.2006 | 6:55 pm

You know, I’m a very fortunate person. I have a great family, a bunch of very good friends with similar interests as mine, an excellent job, good health, and — believe me, I appreciate this — a blog that a lot of people read and tell me they enjoy.

Also, I have all these things within easy driving distance of a ridiculous number of mountain bike Meccas:

  • The Ridge Trail Network: Out my back door.
  • Moab: 3-hour drive
  • Fruita, CO: 4-hour drive
  • Gooseberry Mesa: 4-hour drive

Yesterday, Kenny, Brad, Botched, Rick M, Dug, Gary and I got out our singlespeeds, and left Utah County at 6:00am for a one-day roadtrip to Gooseberry Mesa.

It was a perfect day. Really. And the fact that there were several flat tires, a (hilarious) mechanical, and a gasp-inducing fall only made it more perfect.

Here are some pictures and moments from the day.

Big Moves
I’ve only ridden my singlespeed a handful of times, so really didn’t expect that it is even possible to do big ledge climbs, drops, or otherwise handle seriously technical trail. So I was astounded at what my friends are capable of doing.

Please note: all of us were on singlespeeds, so the photos you see here are — without exception — of guys doing stuff with just one gear.

Let’s get started with what I consider my best photo of the day. Here’s Dug, evidently defying gravity. His front tire is not touching rock, and he’s behind his rear wheel. Certainly, he’s about to tip over backward, right? Nope. He’s actually mid-wheelie, has serious forward momentum, and will clean this move.

And here’s Rick, just finishing a tough, long vertical move. This photo isn’t fair to him; you’d have to see the eight feet below he just cleaned to get to where he is to really appreciate the insanity of what he’s just done.

You wouldn’t know it to look at him, but this is BotchedExperiment’s first extended ride on a singlespeed, ever. That didn’t stop him from consistently cleaning moves on the first try, usually before I had a chance to get my camera out. And in fact, this is the second time Botched did this drop (please note this is a fully rigid hardtail, folks). I made him do it again, so I could get a picture.

Botched routinely did drops off walls and ledges that nobody else would even consider. Once, very early in the day, he did a drop that I wouldn’t have even thought possible. "That was kind of stupid," said Botched, and then he went and did it again. Meanwhile, I had poop in my pants.

OK, here’s Kenny and Brad, each dropping down off a freaky scary wall. In each case, I was tracking them with my camera, trying to get a shot as they went down. Both times, sadly, I did not get a shot of how far down they had to go. (I have a lot to learn about action shots.) You can get an idea of how far they have to drop, though, by looking in the bottom-right corner of the photos. See the plant, there? That’s the top of a tree.

Rick’s Crash
One place we always spend a lot of time at in Gooseberry is a move we have dubbed, "The Toiletbowl." You drop about 15 feet on a steep slickrock incline into a sandy flat, where you then have to execute a sharp 160-degree turn and try to climb back up another way. So far, nobody has been able to complete this move on a singlespeed, though many of us have made it numerous times on geared bikes.

After you climb out of the toiletbowl, you’ve got to muster enough energy for a sprint up an 8-foot-tall ridge, with total vertical exposure on the right.

Rick made us all think he was a dead man when he fell off that part, bouncing his head on the rock below. Amazingly, though, he didn’t break anything, with the only obvious results of the crash being a busted helmet and a scraped-up leg:


Dug Does an Imitation of the Exxon Valdez
A couple days before the trip, Dug turned his bike over to Brad to try to tweak his bike into being a little lighter (Dug’s Surly is probably the heaviest singlespeed on the planet, close to 30 pounds). One of the things Brad — a self-taught mechanic — did was remove the V-brake bosses from dug’s suspension fork. What good were they, after all? Dug has disc brakes.

Oh, well it turns out those bosses also hold the stanchions together. Here’s Dug, unhappily realizing his fork is coming apart, midride.

We turned the bike upside down, hammered the stanchions back into place with a rock ("I wonder if this voids the warranty," quipped Dug), and then — lamely — tried to thread some extra brake cable through where the bolt would normally go, hoping that this would hold the fork together.

It didn’t. At all.

Soon, the oil started bleeding out of Dug’s fork, leaving a puddle everywhere he momentarily stopped (you can see the oil on his rim and tire in this photo). This oil did a fantastic job of keeping his front disc lubricated, rendering the front brake completely useless.

Within an hour or so, all the oil had bled out and the fork would move up and down freely, making the "clang" of a hammer on anvil whenever Dug wheelied up onto a ledge, which is pretty much constantly on this ride.

Also, a completely-compressed fork changes the geometry of a bike pretty significantly, giving Dug a leaning-forward, eager-to-endo look.

To his credit, Dug did not complain about this at all.

This Place is Beautiful
Looking at my pictures, you’d get the impression that Gooseberry is just another Slickrock trail. But it’s not. Connecting up the slickrock playgrounds is a beautiful — meaning not just that it rides well, but is genuinely eye-poppingly gorgeous — desert singletrack network. The thing is, when you’re on your bike and zooming along, you don’t feel like stopping and snapping a photo. So I didn’t. I wish I would have, though.

There are gorgeous vistas from the top of the mesa, where you can look out and see Zions National Park, the Vermillion Castles above the Virgin River, and an enormous valley that stretches on forever. If I were a good photographer, I’d be able to show you what I mean. But I’m not. I’m a guy with a point-and-shoot digital camera. Still, you get some sense of what we saw with this shot, which also features Gary eating lunch (salmon, for crying out loud) and trying to cool down a little in the shade — it got into what felt like the low-to-mid-90’s.

But What About Me?
I was pretty timid yesterday, not trying a lot of the moves that my friends were doing. I did, however, try and succeed at a couple, and I did ride the whole trail, which is pretty darned technical in its own right.

I had a great first long ride on my singlespeed, and think I’m beginning to see what my friends love about it so much.

And today, my arms are so tired.

Little Things

09.25.2006 | 2:33 am

As of Saturday, the Autumn weather has turned into what it’s supposed to be. In the morning you need to ride in tights and long sleeves, but in the afternoon, it’s just warm enough to ride in shorts and short sleeves, provided you keep up the pace. The sun’s bright; the sky’s clear. There are dozens of hang gliders and paragliders in the air off the point of the mountain (I’ve got to try that some day).

To cap it all off, Tuesday a group of us — Kenny, Gary, Dug, Brad, Rocky, the three Richards, BotchedExperiment, and I are going to ride Gooseberry Mesa, a serious contender for one of the top 10 trails in Utah, and therefore one of the top 20 in the US.

In short, my mood is as good now as it was bad last Friday. Maybe that’s why, as I rode to work Saturday (got a big project due Friday; if I’m going to take Tuesday off, I had to put in some weekend hours — a reasonable trade), I noticed all kinds of things I love about riding my bike.

Little stuff. Stuff I normally don’t even think about, but which I’m pretty confident anyone who rides knows what I’m talking about.

  • Catching up with a car at successive lights. Off the green, you’re the first person, until maybe just a few feet past the intersection. Then you get swept up and passed by traffic. But wait a second, there’s the next light, and it’s red. You ride past everyone who just passed you, back up to the front, getting there just long enough to trackstand for three seconds (which is about as long as I can hold a trackstand) and you are once again the first guy, in front of the same group of cars.
  • Having someone wave from a car. For every jerk who honks or swerves, trying to unnerve me, I’ll bet there are ten people in cars who wave, or — once in a while — yell some encouragement (I can never tell what they’re saying). And you know, only about half of those cars have bike racks on them.
  • Carving a fast left turn. A good supple road tire on a good road bike on a good road can lean at crazy angles at crazy speeds. I get every bit as much of an adrenaline rush from hitting a left turn at speed — no brakes — and coming out of the turn as fast as I went in as I do successfully cleaning a technical move on my mountain bike.
  • Drip. Riding in a nice, straight line on a road bike, sometimes it’s nice to just put your head down and focus on the effort. As I do this, the sweat runs down from my forehead to the tip of my nose, and then drips, regular as clockwork. I like watching that drop of water fall to the left of my top tube (I’ve never thought about it before, but for me it’s always the left of the top tube), thinking about how cool it is that because the water’s going the same speed as me, it looks like it’s falling straight down. Then it hits the pavement and — zing! — seems to shoot backward as it stops and I keep going.
  • Fresh, smooth pavement. I rarely think about the texture of the pavement I’m riding on unless it’s especially bad. When Kenny and I rode the Nebo Loop a few weeks ago, though, we hit a five mile stretch of brand new pavement that was just elegant. It was so smooth your riding effort dropped perceptibly while riding it. I notched it up a gear and looked at my speedometer: 27mph. The speed and silence of a well-tuned road bike on perfect pavement is something to be savored. 
  • Being 90% up a hard climb. I seek out rides with climbs, whether I’m on a road or mountain bike. I’ve often wondered, though, why I do this. These climbs hurt, after all. Last Saturday, though, as I came to the final stretch of the north side of the Suncrest climb, it hit me: I love the last 10% of a climb, where I know I’m going to finish, and feel like I can open it up and put my heart into the final push. It’s strange how it both hurts like crazy and feels like victory, at the same time.
  • Putting the bottle away perfectly. You’re in a paceline — or maybe you’re by yourself, but thinking about the next time you’re going to be in a paceline. You want a drink. You grab the bottle without looking — while still pedaling. That’s easy. Then, you put it away. Again, without looking, you push the bottle back toward its cage. Most times it kind of hits the rim of the cage and you’ve got to nudge it left or right a little bit to seat it. Once in a while, though, it just sinks right down the middle, as if it had been vacuumed in. Nothing but net.

There are more little things — lots more — to love about biking.

Tell me what they are.

I Demand a Refund

09.22.2006 | 4:13 pm

I’ve mentioned before: Autumn is my favorite time of the year. I love when the weather cools off, so I can ride in the middle of the day without bursting into flames. I love being able to leverage the fitness I’ve earned during the season into fun, long rides in the mountains. I love the way the trees change color. I love the way most people don’t realize that this is the best year to ride a bike — whether mountain bike or road bike — and have left the roads and trails empty, so that those of us who know this secret have it all to ourselves.

In short, I love Autumn.

Except this year. This year (so far, at least), there has been no Autumn. We went straight from Summer into Winter.

(Not) A Nice Day for a Ride
Take last Saturday, for example. Excited by the thought of beautiful colors in the canyon and the dusting of snow I saw on the peaks of the nearby mountains, I put on a pair of tights, a long-sleeved jersey, wool socks, and windproof gloves, and headed out on my roadbike. I figured it would be a great day to ride the Alpine Loop, and maybe touch snow for the first time in the year.

Yeah, I touched snow all right. About 2/3 of the way up, it started raining and blowing. And then, as I hit 7000 feet (yes, exactly 7000 feet, according to my GPS’s altimeter; weird, huh?) the rain turned to snow. Within five minutes, the snow started sticking to the road. My mind’s eye quickly conjured what it would be like to descend this road with rock-hard road tires when the road was covered with a thin layer of wet slush.

I stopped, made a tiny snowball, ate it, and turned around. I felt cheated, not getting to ride to the summit.

Luckily, the snow stopped (turning back to rain) as I dropped below 7000 feet. Unluckily, the rain soon turned to hail.

You know what hurts? Getting pelted in the face by hail when you’re rolling along at 40mph.

I should point out: last Saturday, it was still technically Summer.

My Bikes are Warm and Dry
At least I got to ride my bike to work on Monday — it was cold, but it’s easy enough to dress against cold. And Tuesday, I got to go on a nice singlespeed mountain bike ride with Gary and Rick Sunderlage (not his real name).

Every other day, though, the weather’s been crummy. Cold, wet, dark. Blech.

In short, it’s Winter-like here. I haven’t been on a bike in three days, counting today. Oh, sure, I could get out and ride if I wanted to be hardcore about it, but the point of Autumn is that it’s the exact opposite of hardcore. I’m supposed to be having the fun, mellow, beautiful, mild, cool rides I’ve been dreaming about during the blast-furnace season we call Summer. Not this cold, wet, dark, snow, slush drizzle stuff where you can go out and ride if you’re in the mood to be punished or tell other people how "not that bad" it was afterward.

I am not ready for this.

Can you tell that I’m getting a little grouchy? Someone, please get Ma Nature on the horn and let her know that if this isn’t corrected soon, she’s going to hear from my people.

I’m getting grouchy. I want to go ride. No, strike that. I need to go ride.

PS: Dug Goes Sledding
At 8am this morning, I drove (grrrrr) to work, crossing over the Suncrest climb at about 8:10. It was just starting to snow.

Around 9am, Dug left his home at Suncrest to head to work. Here’s what he said happened:

We have several inches of snow here. As I descended the topmost hill at Suncrest, about a 15% grade, I slid downhill, off road, and drove down a drainage ditch for about 100 yards, trying to avoid the stalled cars coming up the hill. I had no control and bounced through the ditch like Bo and Luke Duke, knocking over about 4 reflector poles. I totally expected to roll, driving at 45 degree angle, in the ditch, bouncing off small trees, sewer grates, and big rocks. Finally, I got enough control to drive out of the ditch.

I decided to pack it in, and work from home. Welcome to Utah.

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