Archive for the ‘Bike Race’ Category

Disc Brakes in Pro Cycling? Pro and Con   Leave a comment

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Disc Brakes in Pro Cycling? Why not?!?

Much debate has been happening around the use of disc brakes in professional road cycling. They were provisionally approved for several spring classics races this year, but they were re-banned after reports of the discs injuring riders in crashes, allegedly causing severe lacerations. Rumors persist that they’ll try them again later this year.
Meanwhile, discs have proven to be safe, effective, and preferred in mountain bike races and cyclocross races for quite a while. So why shouldn’t this technology be allowed into the pro peloton? I see no reason why it shouldn’t.
First, let’s look at some of the cases against discs that we’ve heard:
Argument #1: They’re dangerous and can cut people in crashes.
Response: Isn’t falling off your bike at high speed wearing nothing but lycra and a styrofoam hat already pretty dangerous? Does the off chance that you’ll get wound up in a spinning brake disc increase the danger significantly? I don’t think so.

Argument #2: They’re heavier than rim brakes.
Response: So what? Most pro bikes already fall well below the UCI-mandated 15 pound minimum weight and have to have weight added back onto them. I’m sure that a disc-equipped bike can land right on the minimum weight standard.

Argument #3: It will make wheel changes during the race difficult, due to various different specifications of the braking and axle systems.
Response: Again, so what? If you want to avoid these hassles, you can choose not to use them. If, however, the team decides that the improved braking is worth the trouble, then they should be allowed to use them.

In the end, the UCI should only be concerned about maintaining a level field between competitors. Disc brakes provide no competitive advantage, except perhaps in wet conditions, and in technical descents. Nevertheless, if a team or rider wants to use them (or if a team’s sponsor wants to financially entice the team to use them) then it’s up to the teams and riders to decide whether the advantages outweigh the disadvantages.
Even if a sponsor is simply trying to sell more disc-equipped bikes by featuring them on their pro teams, it’s irrelevant. If cooperating with a sponsor’s marketing ploy helps keep a team on the road, where’s the harm?
Let disc brakes into the pro peloton, and they’ll either succeed or die on their own merits. In the meantime, having pros test the newest and latest technologies will help move technology forward at a faster speed.
In the meantime, for us “non-pros” ride what you want, and if you like disc brakes, by all means use them.

Disc Brakes in Pro Cycling? Why?!?

While it is certain that disc brake technology has become a mainstay in the worlds of mountain biking and cyclocross, does it belong in the rarified air of elite road cycling? While it’s true that disc brakes offer improved stopping power over their caliper counterparts, are they REALLY desirable in a professional road race? I say the negatives FAR outweigh the positives.
1) Disc brakes require significant modifications, not only to the wheels but also to the forks and frames of the bikes themselves. They exert their force over a much smaller circumference (the area near the hub) than caliper brakes (the rim of the wheel). This requires heavier and bulkier reinforced spokes and forks along with elaborate attachment points for the braking mechanisms. All this translates into more weight and (probably) a loss of aerodynamic advantage. Is the improved stopping power worth this?? I doubt it…pro riders want to GO faster, not STOP faster!

2) As an addendum to item (1)…the modifications necessary for disc brakes eliminate the possibility for “neutral support” during road races. (you know, those guys at the side of the road offering spare wheels when needed) Every neutral support provider would have to have 2 different types of wheels…one with and one without discs. And even with this, would the disc–equipped wheel fit every bike?? I doubt it! Neutral support would become a thing of the past and might lead to sacrifices in time and speed.

3) Disc brakes are notoriously temperamental…just ask a mountain bike rider who has a minor tumble and dings his disc brake. Even a minor perturbation to the disc’s braking surface will lead to rubbing and increased friction…a death blow to a pro road rider’s average speed! Forget getting a little grease on the brake when changing a flat…oh the whining!! Not worth the extra headaches in a road ride where speed is critical.

4) Safety!! The UCI had agreed to allow disc brake usage in certain road rides this season. They went back on their commitment after some incidents at Paris-Roubaix earlier this year. Just ask Francisco Ventoso who allegedly suffered a deep gash in his leg from a disc brake in a crash during P-R. In addition, having disc brakes AND caliper brakes in the same peleton could have unforeseen consequences. Say a dude using discs is riding at the front of the pack when he brakes hard to avoid an obstacle. The guy behind him riding a caliper-equipped rig won’t be able to stop as fast…result? Consistency must rule in the peleton…for safety’s sake!

The UCI is now debating whether to again allow disc brakes to be trialed in pro road racing. I am certain that, in their infinite desire to market “enhanced” technology to the masses, bicycle manufacturers and sponsors will get their way and we shall see disc brakes back in the elite pro ranks soon. While this technology might indeed be beneficial to us mere mortals out on our weekend road ride, I am dubious about their use in the major tours yet to come. I only hope there is not a major crash or incident that proves me right.

(Disclaimer…the author recently rode a mountain bike rig equipped with disc brakes and found them VERY cool!)

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Our Trip to the UCI World Championships   Leave a comment

UCI World Championships

In my attempt to write a trip report about a guys’ road trip to this year’s UCI World Cycling Championships in Richmond, Virginia, I was well into the 6th page before I realized that severe editing was in order (and that’s leaving out the “what happens in Richmond stays in Richmond” parts).

Rather than providing a highly detailed, blow-by-blow account of the trip complete with the “what really happened in McDonalds?” “what does Lord Baltimore have to say about that?” and “does Rick want to bring the bikes?” episodes, I instead am proud to present you with “Ten Tips for Attending the UCI World Cycling Championships in Richmond.” These might come in handy 30 years from now when the Worlds return to US soil, or if you have a time machine. My ghost co-authors for this piece are my traveling and cycling comrades-in-arms, Eric, Mike, Rick, and Tom.

Tip #1: When in doubt, take a road trip with the guys, especially if it involves a world championship cycling event. Or bikes in general. Or really any road trip.

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Tip #2: If possible, have the good fortune of booking yourself into the same hotel as the German national team (as we did) or any other country’s team. Not only can you scope out their “bike storage room” where you’ll see several lifetimes’ supply of carbon fiber, but you’ll also be able to bump into famous riders like Andre Greipel and John Degenkolb in the hallway on the way to breakfast. You can watch team mechanics working on bikes after the races in the hotel parking lot, score a race-used water bottle filled with top secret Teutonic wonder juice, drink this magic elixir, and immediately have enough energy to pump out 1000 pushups.

Tip #3: Bring your bike and schedule a day for a ride. Mike has family in the area, and knows all about being detained by military personnel for breaching CIA training facility perimeters (true story), so having a local guide is key. Our ride around the Williamsburg area, included a nice lunch stop, occasional tailwinds, views of the James and York rivers, dodging horse droppings in Colonial Williamsburg and almost no hills. It was also precisely planned and timed to return us to our “team car” just before the rain hit. Good job Mike!

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Tip #4: Check out as many races as possible. We caught the tail end of the men’s U23 race, the men’s junior race, women’s elite, and men’s elite races. ALL were exciting.

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Tip #5: Move around the course. The Richmond road circuit was 10 miles long, allowing the riders to pass by every 25 minutes or so. This allows the crowd to spread out very nicely, and allows for you to change locations between laps. In most instances, you could get right up to the edge of the road, often coming within inches of the riders as they passed. Try getting that close in Giant’s Stadium. Our race days started on Libby Hill, a ridiculously steep, heavily cobbled group of switchbacks. It was a natural “stadium” environment with fans scattered all over the hill and in the conveniently placed beer garden. Next was 23rd street, a one-lane, cobbled, 20% incline that’s reminiscent of the famous Koppenberg climb from the Tour of Flanders, with fans packed 20-deep up the embankments on either side, it was a tunnel of noise and energy. On Sunday, an entrepreneurial homeowner opened up a makeshift bar in their backyard (Tip #5a: try the bloody Mary!). After 23rd street, we’d view alongside a blistering descent down Broad Street. With no barriers along the side of the road, riders were whipping past at highway speeds, generating a small windstorm. This spilled out into the hard left turn where eventual champion, Peter Sagan, used his exceptional bike handling skills to establish the gap he needed to win. From there we continued onward until we found ourselves along the finishing straightaway, complete with jumbotron TV and beer garden.

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Tip #6: Be amazed. On a descent down Main Street, the road narrows from 5 lanes down to 2 lanes within approximately 150 meters, and then bangs a hard right in to a narrow road. Looking at this piece of road, it was impossible to comprehend how 150 tightly packed riders would fit into this funnel while descending at 40mph, slow down, and manage the turn at the bottom. Somehow they defied all laws of physics and made it through.

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Tip #7: Never pass a beer garden without stopping in. Hydration is important, and it helps the local economy.

Tip #8: Don’t believe the course profile. On paper, the Worlds’ loop looked pretty tame. In reality, the last 3 miles of the course had 3 back-to-back climbs (Libby Hill, 23rd Street, Main Street) that put a very real sting in the final part of the course. Even the finishing straightaway was uphill, a 680 meter false flat. With 162 total miles of racing, the course was everything a fan could hope for, and a grueling test for the riders. Kudos to the organizers for putting together a great course.

Tip #9: City Diner on Broad Street for breakfast. Delicious way to fuel up for a day of race-watching. Conversely, don’t believe the positive reviews for Extra Billy’s BBQ.

Tip #10: On the long drive back to New York, fun can be had by repeatedly turning on the driver’s heated seat when he’s not looking, and waiting until it’s noticed. It was worth getting punched. In the end, there’s really no way to describe how much fun can be had by 5 grown men behaving like children while on a road trip to attend a bike race. Getting to see, interact with, and finish partially filled water bottles from the same pro riders you see racing around the world is nothing like most stadium- controlled pro sporting events most of us attend in the US. Rick snapped about 10,000 photos, so enjoy!

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