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By Tom Demerly for tomdemerly.com

BIKEREVIEW10

I wrote my first equipment review in 1977.

I was 15, typed it on an Underwood for a paper newsletter mailed by Schuman’s Schwinn Cyclery in Detroit. I reviewed a skateboard- said it was “lame”.

It was probably my last honest review.

Since then I’ve written hundreds of equipment reviews for magazines like Outside, Velo-News, Triathlete and many others.

Bicycle and outdoor equipment reviews are increasingly shady business. They’re assumed to be impartial- expert opinions on what is good and bad about a bike gadget- based on experience. Consumers use them as “research” to help make a buying decision.

It is one of the great lies of the bicycle industry.

Bike and gear reviews are increasingly influenced by the sales motive. Bike brands and retailers often can’t say anything bad about a product. Their primary motive is selling it. Since few people are being objective- writers or readers, anyone attempting objectivity is punished for their honesty. Customers are scared away from a product if a review contains criticism, even when it is valid. We end up with canned press-release product descriptions that are not critical “reviews” at all.

That’s not right. So, as far as my keyboard can reach, I’m changing that.

There are some reviewers who have established credibility in addition to a paycheck by being objective. I spoke to three of them before writing this; James Huang of CyclingTips.com (formerly at BikeRadar.com); Dan Empfield, founder of Slowtwitch.com and Charles Manantan, of Pez Cycling News.

James Huang is among the most read and respected product reviewers in the bike industry. He began as an independent reviewer with his own blog and earned a reputation for being critical and objective. His candor won him increasingly greater readership- and credibility. From 2007-2015 Huang was the U.S. Tech Editor for BikeRadar.com. He recently went to CyclingTips.com.

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Writer and product editorialist James Huang.

Unlike many product reviewers, James Huang is both a pragmatist and a very good writer. This excerpt from his article The Unattainable Quest for Perfection summarizes the craft of the best writers in this industry:

“More than a decade at this beat — writing about bicycles and bicycle technology — has taught me that there’s no such thing as a perfect product. But I like to think that I have a decent handle on when something contributes meaningfully to the enjoyment and beauty of riding.”

Huang has had the courage to comment with balance in his reviews, and his editors have backed him up.

“I’ve certainly had companies pull advertising campaigns or raise hell with the commercial side of the business but nope, I have never had any editorial modified for commercial reasons. I’ve been extremely lucky in that sense; from what I understand not everyone in my position has been so fortunate. “

When I asked James about how objective he feels other media outlets are with their equipment reviews he told me, “I always like to believe that it’s easy to distinguish between thinly veiled pay-to-play editorial and the good stuff but the cynic in me says otherwise.”

James Huang is right. The fault lies partially with the “pay-to-play” editorial, as Huang suggests, and also with consumers reading reviews.

Here’s why: As a reviewer part of my job is writing about the equipment we use- and sell. The reason I write reviews is for people to buy something. I also write for good rankings in SEO, “Search Engine Optimization”. In many cases I am actually not reviewing, I am selling. That motive makes me one of the bad guys- at least until now.

Search engines like Google and Yahoo serve content to consumers from key word searches like “triathlon bike reviews” using complex, secret algorithms that change daily. No one outside the secretive search engine code writing industry knows how to “cheat” them. Hucksters who sell “How to Improve Your SEO” webinars are guessing. I’ve sat through a ton of them. The only proven way to rise to the top of the results is to serve a ton of original content. So I’ve had to work fast. And sometimes loose.

If you count SEO frequency as the high bar of review success, and bike brands often do, I’m pretty good at it: Do a Google search on the key words “triathlon bike reviews” and hit the “images” tab. You get 14 of my photos served to you on the first page. Most are my original content; some are copied and pasted from something I wrote and then used by another writer- an even shadier practice. I don’t care though, because more is more. In the Internet search engine world the person who shouts the loudest and the most gets heard. That’s been me. And judging by my SEO results, I’ve been doing something right- because readers like to read good things about the products they aspire to and my SEO is strong.

Chris Gustafson is a salesman, and a pragmatist. He gave me the key to writing equipment reviews in one sentence, “Tell me what you want, and I’ll tell you why it’s the best.” His doctrine was “knock ’em where they lean”. And Chris sold a ton of bikes. Because it is human nature that we want our thoughts reinforced, not challenged.

If I were completely honest with my opinions in gear reviews I would write things like, “Even after repeated adjustments we couldn’t get the rear brakes to work very well” or “The bike feels oddly heavy because, when we weighed it, it was.” But then consumers would simply click to the next review that says the crap like, “Light and aero, but stiff and comfortable too!”

Here is my challenge to consumers: You can’t handle the truth.

Consumers search for the single best-reviewed bike using some golden BB metric or measure of “best-ness”. This “research” has fed numerous marketing lies like wind-tunnel white papers, ride review payola and ad dollar ransom.

Bike buyers: look for reviewers with the courage to be critical. Consider balance and understand how you will really use something you are researching. Know that there are no perfect products and look for glaring omissions in sugar-sweet product reviews that gush without reservation. There is nothing wrong with a great sales pitch until it is veiled as a critical review.

I have seen the power of candor in equipment reviews.

In 2002 I did a review of the Litespeed Blade where I wrote, “It is an expensive bike that does not return a high degree of performance for most riders.” That was the good part. It got worse from there.

The (then) President of Litespeed phoned me and asked, point blank, “What will it take for you to take that review down?” My answer was simple, “Fix the bike”.

Three years later in 2005 the company had completely redesigned the bike and the new version was greatly improved. Whether my criticisms played a role I do not know. The shortcomings I wrote about weren’t subtle; any triathlete would notice them. But there was still pressure on me to shut up about the bike’s many problems. It was a rare case where I didn’t cave.

The moment any second party has editorial control over review content, it changes. Most times not for the better. A key ingredient in good, credible reviews is commensurate authority for the reviewer to say what they really think- good and bad. The reviewer needs an editor who will back them up, not shut them down to protect advertising and sales motives. That is nearly non-existent in the cycling industry. A key ingredient in delivering meaningful content is to grant commensurate authority for the writer to express an opinion independent from the sales motive.

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With Jim Felt, founder of Felt Bicycles (left) and Dan Empfield of Slowtwitch.com (center). That’s me with the idiotic expression on my face.

You can sometimes tell the best reviewers by the ones who have been fired. Dan Empfield has been fired from glossy triathlon publications for speaking his mind. It’s ironic since Empfield is a Triathlon Hall of Fame inductee who invented the triathlon wetsuit, the triathlon bike and a host of other innovations in the industry. He is also the founder of Slowtwitch.com, a website that does publish objective reviews and editorial.

“You have to have balance,” Empfield told me. “A few good things, some bad things. Just tell the truth.” Empfield’s simplistic editorial doctrine is refreshing- and useful to consumers using his reviews as an evaluative tool for buying decisions.

Charles Manantan is a tech writer for Pez Cycling News, a credible, dynamic cycling website packed with fresh content. He also practices an objective editorial policy in equipment reviews.

“I’ve had companies tell me that they had more direct feedback and customers from a review on our site than from sites with many times more eyeballs [on them]. I do think [objective] reviews have an influence on buying decisions.”

Manantan summarized the industry of writing gear reviews succinctly and offered an insightful recommendation for a better doctrine.

“Look at an Editor like John Bradley at Velo-News who held his ground rather than kill a story in the face of Shimano pulling ads. You see another popular bike publication get exposed for straight-up “Pay for Play” advertorial reviews being part of a paid advertising package sold to a large manufacturer. I think the biggest negative impact on public perception of bike reviews comes from publications that work on the ‘more content is better’ theory, especially when they don’t want to pay [writers] for the content. Worse yet, they don’t seem to value the quality of the content as much as the quantity.”

So here is my recommendation, and my promise: If it sounds too good to be true, it is. Not every bike can test “most aero”. Every bike isn’t “stiff, but comfortable”. If a review doesn’t contain at least some balanced criticism you likely just got a sales pitch instead of an honest opinion.

And, I promise in the stuff I write going forward to not pull punches for payola or gush garbage to go viral on Google.

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Author Tom Demerly has written a bunch of crap, some of it you just finished.

Now he’s telling the truth. It’s his new thing.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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By Tom Demerly for tomdemerly.com.

Handful of Hell 10

Rarely you find a great treasure, a book that reaches back with precious reflection on the past and ignites inspiration for the future.

It’s even more delightful when it celebrates an incredible career.

A Handful of Hell: Classic War and Adventure Stories by Robert F. Dorr gives you each of those treasures. Handful of Hell is thoughtfully edited by Robert Deis and Wyatt Doyle to adapt its brilliant snapshots for a new age of readers. The result is incredibly special.

This book is something unique a new audience will love, the reader who won’t sit through an entire novel to get to the action. Handful of Hell is “extreme writing”, the X-Games, the Nitro Circus of story telling. That gives these stories new life to a fresh audience.

This anthology also serves as a historical time capsule, not just of the events depicted, but also of a style of writing mostly extinct that shaped publishing and story telling into the age of Ian Fleming, Alistar MacLean, Tom Clancy and even modern thrill-writers like Stephen King, David Baldacci and Brad Thor.

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Author Robert F. Dorr has lived a James Bond-like lifestyle. Born in 1939 he became a shadowy diplomat from Madagascar to Korea to Liberia, Sweden and England. A published author from age 16, Dorr has been seen in every corner of the globe on diplomatic missions and posing next to advanced fighter jets before orientation rides, something reserved for the connected and influential.

In addition to providing a rare and uniquely informed perspective on conflict, espionage and adventure Dorr is incredibly prolific as an author, having published over 70 books and contributing frequently to aviation and defense publications.

In each of the 17 remarkable adventure stories in Handful of Hell Dorr thrills and teaches- history, editing, writing and style. Writing is hard work, and Dorr has been a tireless slave-virtuoso to the trade. He bangs out tense, staccato sentences that hit like a burst of machine gun fire, punctuating the action the way it happened- and the way we want it remembered.

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The post WWII era of the late 1940’s, ‘50’s 60’s, and even early ‘70’s featured a huge population of American men thrust into middle class America from a life fighting or contributing to brutal wars around the globe. Back at home middle class American life had become dull. This audience was looking for escapism in romanticized adventure. An accounting of their lives that added danger, meaning and romance to their personal narrative. Dorr’s writing does that elegantly. It is quick, tight, vivid and often terrifying.

Interestingly, this book works perfectly in the modern age of media, where attention spans are short and appetite for the sensational is strong. Each story is quick and serrated; once it saws into your imagination it won’t release your flesh to the end. Each one is a quick read. That is how audiences were then, and are again- they want tight, fast action in small sound bites. This is YouTube for book lovers, a collection of crashes, combat, catastrophe and heroism written as if a GoPro could make words on a page.

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Since most “sweat” magazines now reside in a musty pile in your grandfather’s basement Handful of Hell is also a historical homage to the era of adventure magazines. If you want to understand that publishing movement, this book will unlock that understanding.

That new 500-page “best seller” thriller novel will gather dust when you crack the binding on Handful of Hell. Its historical relevance, tight, sensational editing and crisp attention to technical detail are far more engaging, entertaining and even educational. As soon as you start reading Handful of Hell you’ll know it is page-fulls of fun.

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Get your own “Handful of Hell” by clicking this photo.

By Tom Demerly.

MrX hit team

This top secret photo, obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, depicts a U.S. rescue team just after liberating Mr. X and a helicopter load of kittens from Damascus, Syria. Mr. X safeguarded the abandoned kittens until U.S. forces could mount a lightening raid using Russian helicopters operated by the CIA to rescue them. His whereabouts following the operation were unknown, until he showed up in our back yard a month ago.

Across four continents with too many aliases to count, rescuing hostage cats and fending off the advances of top-secret “honey pot” queen cats, smuggling catnip to refugee cats and establishing remote, clandestine scratching posts deep in denied territory- these are just a few of the fur-raising exploits in the secret life of the cat who came in from the cold.

They told us his name was “Chester”, but when the vet read his microchip he told us, “I think there is something you should see here…”

That something is a tale of danger and adventure more incredible than any fiction.

Based on the shadowy details we could piece together Mr. X’s adventure started in the Canary Islands off the coast of West Africa. How he got there is a mystery but documents revealed that Mr. X had been issued a U.S. military I.D. posing as a feline member of an elite Air Force unit in charge of chasing birds.

Mr X map

A. Mr. X arrives in the Canary Islands from a secret U.S. base in Lajes, Portugal. B. He crosses into Morocco, through Casablanca and Meknes, then across the Straits of Gibraltar on a fishing boat while eating tuna and then into Portugal. C. In Paris Mr. X encounters “honey pot” cat Choupette Lagerfeld. D. Crossing eastern Europe to the Greek Isles Mr. X enjoys the spoils of smuggling and espionage on a tuna fish magnate’s yacht. E. He crosses to Malta on a mouse-hunting expedition and then infiltrates Libya to rescue kittens trapped in Libya. F. In Benghazi he rescues a litter of Russian kittens and (G) smuggles them across the desert to Egypt. H. A secret, joint U.S./Russian rescue team airlift Mr. X and his rescued kittens to Turkey. J. Mr. X receives a massive welcome in Russia where he is awarded the “Cat of the Russian Federation” award.

Likely attracted to the Canary Islands because of his fascination with birds, Mr. X, (his alias at the time was “Chester”) was recruited into an experimental U.S. Air Force program that trained cats to conduct audible surveillance with their sensitive hearing. From Lajes, Portugal Mr. X moved by small surface vessel to establish ears-on a bird rookery on Tenerife.

Mr X ID card

False Air Force identity card issued to Mr. X under the alias “Airman David S. Silva” for his clandestine activities off the African coast.

It is off the coast of West Africa that Mr. X’s activities become increasingly difficult to follow. He has now fully adopted a new identity under the name “Airman David Silva”. Airman-cat Silva apparently learns of a massive catnip plantation high in the Atlas Mountains of Morocco near the Algerian/Moroccan border. The catnip is grown in the damp, rain catching mountains before the vast sprawl of the Sahara major in Africa’s north-central expanse. Being a clever businessman Mr. X brokers a deal to move substantial quantities of catnip from the Atlas Mountains overland and north to cross the Straits of Gibraltar. He hopes to resell his secretly obtained catnip on the open market in Paris, France where fashionable cats pay a premium for Moroccan catnip.

In Portugal Mr. X is approached by shadowy members of a secret cat society called “Le Chat Noir” (“The Black Cat”)  who attempt to extort a tax for the safe passage of his vast catnip shipments in exchange for distracting customs officials from seizing the material.

While partying at a late night laser-pointer rave in Lisbon David Silva meets the captivating celebrity cat Choupette Lagerfeld, cat to the famous fashion designer Karl Lagerfeld. In a passion-driven all night purring and licking orgy Choupette and David Silva form an unbreakable bond, waking up at sunrise on the breathtaking Praia da Marinha beach.

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Choupette Lagerfeld, the queen-cat who seduced (alias) David Silva during an all-night catnip and laser-show rave in Portugal.

Once in Paris David Silva begins to make contacts through Choupette Lagerfeld for the distribution of his catnip shipments now moving freely from Morocco. Problems surface almost immediately as David Silva suspects that Choupette is working for the French Direction Générale de la Sécurité Intérieure or the “DGSI”, the French equivalent of our FBI. The French agency hopes to stop the flow of Moroccan catnip into Paris in the hopes of driving up catnip prices and collecting a French excise tax on the feline confection.

David Silva feels betrayed by Choupette, urinates on the carpeting in one of Karl Lagerfeld’s estates and shreds designer toilet paper in one of its bathrooms before leaving in a rage. Claws still out from his perceived betrayal he crosses Eastern Europe until he reaches the Greek Isles, where partying aristocats take a liking to Silva and invite him for a month of partying on their yacht docked at the island of Lesbos.

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Still heartbroken from the Paris Affair, Mr. X attempts to recover on a billionaire cat’s yacht in the Greek isles.

Having profited modestly from his catnip venture in Paris before betrayal by Lagerfeld, Mr. X used his resources to travel to the Greek Isles where he hoped for a much needed holiday. There he met a cartel of cats who controlled tuna fishing in the area. These cats had amassed a considerable fortune from their fishing industry that supplied a lucrative canned cat food market across Europe. Mr. X immediately befriended them and boarded their yacht, the M.V. Silent Purr, on the Greek Island of Lesbos.

Mr. X. remained the guest of the Greek tuna cartel cats until one of the cats told him of a rumor of abandoned Russian Blue kittens inside Libya. X immediately made plans to infiltrate Libya, then torn by revolution, to rescue the kittens and repatriate them to Russia. In exchange Greek Cats agreed to pay, through their syndicate, a massive stipend to Mr. X.

Details of Mr. X’s operation to rescue the Russian Blue kittens in Tripoli, Libya remain classified, but the operation was a resounding success. This is especially impressive since his escape route passed through conflict-torn Syria where X actually rescued more cats, repatriating them to Russia. Back in Moscow, a massive reception was held in honor of Mr. X.

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Mr X. at his reception in Moscow.

After Mr. X returned to Moscow with the rescued kittens his path became a mystery. There is no doubt he accumulated substantial financial resources as a result of his activities, and these resources likely enabled him to travel back to the United States.

Another theory, and some recent information that surfaced also as a result of a FOI Act inquiry, was this CIA identity card with a recent photo of Mr. X, who may have returned to his orginal alias, “Chester”.

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By Tom Demerly.

MrX10

He just appeared.

Out the back window in a pool of light at 12:34 AM. He was interested in what was inside our window. When he looked inside our house he saw two happy, healthy, well-fed cats with rooms full of toys and cat trees and water fountains and beds. He had a sad look of longing on his face.

And then he was gone.

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It was March 13 that first time we saw him. Since then he has come back many times. Sometimes he just shows up. He comes running when he sees us. Now he answers to our voice when he is around or meows outside the window to come in.

We started calling him “Mr. X”, a man with no name, no obvious place of belonging.

When Mr. X arrived the first time I was concerned. Animals show emotion on their face. After decades of living with cats I could tell Mr. X was not happy outside our house that night. He wanted a warm blanket, a cat tree, something to eat and a friend.

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We kept an eye out for him and over time he would make his way back for another visit. Then another. Finally, one day, we invited him into the back porch. It’s segregated from our two cats (inside only cats with clean health records). He was incredibly affectionate, loved to be petted, then held, then brushed. He smiled a big cat smile and purred when we gave him his own blanket. Then we bought him a water dish, a food bowl, his own litter box, a heated bed, all on his own glassed-in patio.

MrX40

We wondered where he was from. Was he someone else’s cat? Did a family move away and abandon him? There were five houses for sale on our block- he could have been from one of them- a family moved out and left him behind.

We had a special collar with our phone number made and we planned to put the bright red collar with our contact number on him so if anyone owned him they could call us when he got home. Domestic cats have relatively small territories, males larger than females, but finite territories nonetheless.

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Mr. X happily accepted the collar and went on his way. We hoped we’d find an answer to the mystery of Mr. X soon.

On April 1st at 10:57 AM I got a text message, “My cat came home with a collar that had this number on it. Did you put it on?”

Success. Mr. X had a home, and a name. His name is “Chester”. We don’t know his last name.

MrX60

As it turns out Mr. Chester lives next door. He comes and goes as he pleases. The people who own him have children who love him and take good care of him. His excellent disposition speaks to their kind treatment of him. But the person who texted me told us her husband is allergic to cats and they were looking to relocate him.

Of course, Mr. Chester has a vote in all this.

Over the next few days Chester made it clear he loves us and enjoys good food, a heated bed and a wide open back porch to lay in while the sun spills through the window during the day.

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But Mr. Chester also loves his freedom. He wakes up from his daytime naps and wanders out of the back porch at night. He plays in the yard, running around me, playing fetch, getting petted and stalking imaginary things.

Then he disappears.

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We’ll see him in the window next door. Then outside. Then back in our porch. Our cats haven’t met him except through the window and screen and by sharing scents on the back porch after he leaves. Mr. Chester needs a clean veterinarian exam before he integrates with our cats because of disease that can be transmitted from cat to cat.

But there is more: As it turns out the man next door isn’t the only one allergic to cats though. Jan Mack is also allergic, and she takes a coal shovel full of prescriptions every day to moderate her allergies to our two cats, MiMi and Vice-Admiral Malcom Fredrick Davis III. So the full integration of Mr. Chester into our home may never be possible for three reasons; Jan is allergic, and a third cat may add to the symptoms, Mr. Chester may not want to live inside permanently, and outside cats can put inside cats at risk for transmitted disease. Lastly, MiMi and the Vice-Admiral may not want a new cat. They are curious about Mr. Chester’s visits, but reserved about him being a permanent resident.

MrX100

So, as it turns out, Mr. Chester is the decider in this matter. If he decides he wants to move from next door to our house, he is welcome as long as we can moderate the issues of Jan’s allergies and integrate him with MiMi and the Vice-Admiral. But those factors also weigh heavily on the matter.

For now, Mr. Chester is enjoying the benefits of two households and seems quite pleased about it. A veterinarian visit is in his future, and we worry about his exposure to traffic and other animals outside, but he appears to be a clever man who has made his way so far.

MrX110

 

 

 

 

 

 

By Tom Demerly.

CerveloR3d200

On Wednesday, April 13, 2016 online publication Cyclingweekly.com reported that the Union Cycliste Internationale or UCI, the international governing body for the sport of cycling, has “issued a suspension” on the use of disc brakes for professional road racing events.

The new sanction against disc brakes on road bikes follows a trial period of disc brake use by pro cyclists before their permanent approval for competition.

According to Cyclingnews.com this “second testing phase [would have permitted] every rider in a team to use disc brakes in 2016 and in every major race. This is expected to spark widespread use of disc brakes during the 2016 season.”

But today’s suspension of disc brake use in the pro peloton raises a few questions about disc brakes on road bikes specifically, and about cycling technology and its role in the consumer market more broadly.

The cycling industry is a consumer industry. It relies on interest in new products to drive bike sales. Every season new features need to be released to keep customers interested.

But not every new feature has an attendant benefit.

Some features are just… new.

To a degree disc brakes fall in this category, but only to a degree.

Let’s consider a balance sheet of disk brakes on road bikes:

Pros:

  1. Disc brakes remove the braking surface from the rim, allowing new flexibility in rim shape design.
  1. Disc brakes usually have better stopping performance in wet and dirty conditions than a rim brake.
  1. Because a bike frame designed specifically for disc brakes does not need caliper brake mounts frame designers have new latitude with frame design not available with traditional caliper brakes.

IMG_2552Cons:

  1. Disc brakes are heavier than caliper brakes.
  1. Disc brakes are more expensive than most caliper brakes.
  1. Disc brake equipped wheels take longer to change in a race-service setting.
  1. Disc brake equipped bikes are less tolerant of interchanging wheels from bike to bike; the brake disc spacing on the wheel must be exact for it to work on a given bike and this often varies from bike to bike. Caliper brake equipped bikes are easier to change wheels on.
  1. Disc brakes have different stopping power than caliper brakes. This can create different braking performance on group rides where some riders have caliper brakes and some riders have disc brakes, potentially creating a hazard.
  1. There are not as many wheel options available aftermarket for disc brake equipped bikes as there are for caliper-equipped bikes.

If you weigh both sides of the balance sheet you see that disc brakes offer some advantages, but not necessarily advantages in a professional road race setting.

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As with aerobars, disc brakes are not well suited for riding in a group, especially if some riders are also using caliper brakes.

Aerodynamic handlebars are similar; in an individual, time trial and triathlon setting they offer proven performance benefits, but they aren’t optimal for use in mass-start bicycle racing.

The bike industry may not have ever intended disc brakes to be a replacement for caliper brake racing bikes. Instead, the disc-equipped road bike may have been targeted for an emerging demographic of recreational cyclist who rides in all-weather.

I use the word “may” because the cycling industry seldom plans such things, but rather throws new ideas against the consumer wall to see what sticks. The impetus is to constantly release something new, if not necessarily better.

Because consumers seem to want “new”.

Disc brakes aren’t bad. They stop a bike adequately in all conditions and better than caliper brakes in wet and dirty conditions. On mountain bikes, cyclocross bikes, dirt road bikes and randonee’/touring bikes ridden in bad weather they are better than caliper brakes.

Recall the time when suspension forks were installed on road bikes used for the cobblestones in Paris-Roubaix. The trend didn’t last, and riders quickly returned to mostly conventional road bikes with rigid forks and caliper brakes at Paris-Roubaix and in the other Spring Classic races.

Suspension forks didn’t go away. They found their own best application on mountain bikes and some recreational hybrid bikes. And there they remain, because they are a feature that provides a tangible benefit on those bikes.

Do disc brakes belong on road bikes? On some road bikes they do. Not all, and they are not a replacement for caliper brakes. If you ride by yourself on dirt roads and in wet conditions, disc brakes offer a benefit. But disc brake bikes aren’t a replacement for the caliper brake equipped road racing bike. They were never intended to be.

 

 

 

 

 

By Tom Demerly.

democracy-spring-twitter

The people were angry. Quietly angry.

Oppressed by despotic rule, subterranean anger and frustration simmered. Until it boiled over.

The virus of discontent spread through the Typhoid Mary of technology; cell phones, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram. The people were empowered now. The rulers shut down the Internet. Turned off the cell towers. But the world was too connected to be dragged back into isolation now.

The people knew not to trust “official” media. These were controlled by “The Man” and meant to bend feeble minds. To keep them in line.

Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Syria then Yemen, Bahrain and even the “moderate” countries like Jordan and Saudi Arabia. The people were angry with the leadership, their lives, their countries. They rose up and overthrew them.

The Arab Spring was a geopolitical reset button that toppled deeply ensconced governments across the Middle East and sent shockwaves into the Mediterranean and Europe.

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A version of the Arab Spring is here in the United States: the 2016 election face-off between Democratic and Republican extremes.

This is the American Spring.

A two-term President who leaned decidedly left makes his exit. He was, in many ways, a “perfect storm” leader for the U.S. The first to preside during the age of user-generated media, the first to challenge a host of right-wing values, policies and prejudices, the first African-American.

If his agendas are congruent with yours, you will remember him as one of the greatest Presidents in history.

During his two terms the Dow Jones Industrial Average increased a staggering 156.75%, an economic surge not seen since the recovery from the Great Depression. Agree or disagree with the policies of this administration, it was very effective in prosecuting it’s agenda. People who were able to participate in the recovery from the recession got wealthy(ier).

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“The Economist” published an accounting of the result of the Arab Spring to date. Their analysis shows a lot of strife, a little reform and a long way to go.

And for eight years the contrarian view simmered to a rolling boil. The country began easing left as the right yearned to jerk the steering wheel back to the other side of the road. As the stock market rocketed upward, turning modest holdings into fortunes, small portfolios into millionaires, the middle class was gutted.

The middle 60% entered the U.S. recession dangling from a precipice by their fingertips. When the weight of the economic collapse settled on them, most lost their tentative grip on middle class and slid down to a subsistence living. Few have clawed their way back up the ladder. With the weight of this economic burden released from the new upper class they rocketed ahead, collecting revenue on the massive new industry of the nouveau broke.

When you talk to some members of the nouveau broke, the new lower class, you hear typically sweeping generalizations. “They’re trying to take my guns and force me to buy health insurance that doesn’t work, but keeps the drug company executives rich.” Similar banter was heard on the streets of Cairo, Benghazi, Amman, and Damascus.

Forecasting political outcomes seems like voodoo but is truthfully as banal as algebra. Equations must be balanced. The terms must cancel. When one factor is thrown out of balance in the delicate equation, it must be corrected by like terms.

And that brings us to now.

The perfect storm of accelerated media change, polarized political environment and massive social evolution have concentrated five decades of change into eight years.

Now the forces of math and physics that preside over everything want to swing it back the other way with increasing speed and amplitude. Like a car beginning to swerve off an icy road the driver’s corrections become increasingly large, increasingly desperate, increasingly dangerous. And then the car careens into a ditch.

“Of the countries involved in the Arab Spring most are still roiling in chaos, some destroyed by war. Almost none are better off.”

Of the countries involved in the Arab Spring most are still roiling in chaos and unrest. Some are destroyed by war. Almost none are better off. That ephemeral, enticing tempest called “freedom” was like smoke in a sandstorm- extremely difficult to contain as long as massive, abrasive forces swirled around it.

When you talk to some Egyptians, Libyans, Syrians and even Iraqis they may quietly suggest an unpopular belief; things were actually better before the Arab Spring. The markets were full, the economy was functional, the streets were some version of safe. Now there is rampant unemployment, a refugee crisis, widespread insurgency and the creeping cancer of ISIL and religious extremism. They tried to grab the golden ring of freedom and spun off the merry go ‘round.

A new government represented an alternative, not necessarily a well-conceived alternative, but just something different. For most countries involved the Arab Spring was a reaction, not a well-conceived set of reforms. And they have suffered ever since.

For more moderate countries like Jordan there was an orderly process of reforms- not an uprising. Al Jaezeera journalist Nermeen Murad wrote that Jordan was spared the destruction of the Arab Spring because of “The ‘maturity’ of the Jordanian public, Western financial support, the UN’s management of the influx of Syrian refugees and last but certainly not least, the kingdom’s official ‘web masters’.”

Another example of orderly and expedient reform contrasted against angry revolution is Iceland’s recent “coup”. In early April this year Prime Minister Sigmundur Gunnlaugsson voluntarily resigned after leaked documents from Panama-based law firm Mossack Fonseca reveal that he failed to declare ownership of an offshore company when he entered Icelandic parliament in 2009. It was oddly tantamount to the U.S. Watergate scandal.

This weekend protesters descended on Washington D.C. in what was termed a “Freedom Spring”. There were a reported “more than 200 arrests”. Evoking the genie of an Arab Spring style reform in the U.S. is reckless political voodoo.

Americans can be stupid. They were on September 10, 2001. They may be again, believing they can segregate themselves from a world more integrated than ever. Believing they can return to doctrine that social and technical evolution has left long behind. Believing they can somehow exist and prosper as an island selectively disconnected from the rest of humanity.

Almost no country that participated in the Arab Spring is more stable than prior to it. Some are devastated. All have relied heavily on the international community. And while some do enjoy a tentative version of liberty now it teeters on a fragile fulcrum above the abyss of even worse extremism. It could go either way.

As we head into an election year the United States would do well to learn from the Arab Spring. Wild swings from one political direction to another seldom leave a culture intact. They most commonly result in turmoil and loss.

No government appeases every political agenda on an individual basis. That is not the job of government. Instead, an effective government moderates conflicting agendas toward a mutually beneficial middle ground. As we go to the polls this November that is a reality worth remembering while the ominous potential of an American Spring is worth avoiding.

demerlyjordan

 

On all seven continents including East and West Africa and The Middle East, author Tom Demerly never let not knowing about a topic stand in the way of having an opinion. Here he tries to tuck his shirt in at the Petra ruins in Jordan after the 9/11 terror attacks.

By Tom Demerly.

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Bike fitting is big business. Having some version of “professional” bike fitting is the new standard for any bike sold above $1000.

How do you tell if your bike fitter knows what they’re doing? Are they a credible, trained, experienced fitter or just repeating buzzwords in a kind of bike fit “theater” learned in a weeklong clinic under the guise of years of experience fitting athletes during the evolution of bike fitting?

Here are ten checkpoints to assess the credibility of your bike fitter:

  1. Do They Ride? The Way You Do?

If a bike fitter knows what it’s like to be a beginner triathlete filled with anxiety and not even know what questions to ask they can help the newest beginner with solid recommendations. A good fitter knows the “beginner’s mind”.

At the opposite end of the experience scale, if your fitter knows what it’s like to sit on an uncomfortable saddle for six hours at Ironman- and can fix it– it’s easier for them to understand what you’re experiencing. If they have done it themselves, you’ve found a fitter you can relate to.

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“After their bike fits Dave and Enrique couldn’t help but wonder if there had been some confusion between their two appointments…”

When a bike fitter combines the “beginner’s mind” with elite level competitive experience balanced with formal training and tempered against learned judgment from doing thousands of bike fits, you have a master. And the less a new rider knows, the more the fitter must.

There are a few credible fitters who are not triathletes or bike racers but do know bike fit well. But they are the exception.

Having the practical experience of riding the way you do (beginner or expert) makes communication more effective. It also means your fitter had to apply what they’ve learned about bike fit to themselves. It teaches them critical thinking and hones their analytical skills. That makes them a better fitter.

There is a dark side to the super-athlete bike fitter though, see #10 below.

 

  1. Have They Been Trained in Multiple Methods? 

Beware of any shop or fitter than espouses a single fit methodology. If a shop tells you “We do Retül (or Guru, or FitKit, or Body Geometry, or FIST)” but uses no other system and is not familiar with any others, it’s worth learning how deep their understanding of bike fitting and positioning really is.

How long have they been fitting? Have you spoken to any other fit clients of theirs? What are their reviews?

Bike fit systems are only tools to make the fitting process easier, more theatric, and in some cases, to sell bikes.

Dan Empfield, inventor of the triathlon bike and of the Stack and Reach sizing convention teaches a F.I.S.T. bike fitting class in England.

Dan Empfield, inventor of the triathlon bike and of the Stack and Reach sizing convention teaches a F.I.S.T. bike fitting class in England.

The quality of the end product depends on the fitter, not the system. A fitter with experience across a number of systems has a more balanced understanding of the bike fit landscape and assesses your fit from a broader perspective. That likely means you’ll get a better bike fit. Beware of the one-trick pony and the Johnny-come-lately with the shiny new fit bike and laser levels.

 

  1. Do They Espouse One “Fit System” Over Another?

If a fitter uses only the cookie-cutter fitting system associated with the bike brand they sell, you may still get a good fit on that brand, but the fitter’s capabilities may be limited.

As with point #2 above, bike fitting systems are merely tools. All of them will produce a favorable result in the hands of a skilled fitter- but all of them rely on an experienced fitter.

Nice tools, but do they know their stuff?

Nice tools, but do they know their stuff?

When was the last time you asked your bike mechanic, “What kind of wrenches do you use?” As bike fitters become more experienced and capable the system they use becomes less relevant.

It’s the experience and skill of your fitter that matters, not the system they use.

 

  1. Do They Only Suggest New Saddles for Saddle Discomfort?

Saddle discomfort is a leading motive for bike fit, but if the only thing your fitter does to make you more comfortable is bolt different saddles on your bike or try to measure your “sit bones” to sell you the right saddle, then they are a good salesperson, but a poor bike fitter.

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A good fitter will take a holistic approach to saddle discomfort, addressing fit, position, saddle comfort habits, rider fitness and posture and the rider’s clothing to improve saddle comfort.

Bolting on new saddles is a great way to drive sales and usually the most logical approach to the customer, but it is a myopic view of what makes a person comfortable on a bike seat. Your fitter owes you more than a sales pitch on another magic saddle.

 

  1. Do They Claim To Be Able To Make You “More Aero”?

A great way to tell if a fitter is a hack is if they claim to be able to make you more aero without using wind tunnel testing or computational fluid dynamics.

A bike fitter can use empirical, data-driven checks to verify joint angles. They can take specific measurements of frame dimensions and geometry. They can take quantifiable measurements of your body and make mathematical comparisons to determine relevant ratios for bike fit.

A bike fitter cannot do this for aerodynamics. If your bike fitter claims to be able to make you more aerodynamic on your bike they are guessing, and lying.

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Air is 784 times less dense than water, and it is nearly impossible to predict the behavior of water swirling around your finger. Guessing how air will swirl around a pedaling rider at speed in different wind conditions is impossible without empirical analysis.

I know- I’ve been that guy. I spent over ten years telling clients I would get them “more aero” by lowering their handlebars and making them “more aggressive” until a wise man who happened to have a PhD in aerodynamics told me to “stop embarrassing yourself” by trying to guess at aerodynamics.

I’ve been privileged to wind tunnel test with two bike brands and one independent engineering laboratory in three different wind tunnels over 25 years, on the bike and in the control room. I’ve learned that no one can guess what small changes will make a rider faster over the entire length of a triathlon bike leg. And remember, the goal is to get faster, not just “more aero”, and while those two things are closely related, they are not entirely the same– especially for new riders with comfort issues.

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“Jim wondered about riding 112 miles at Lake Placid like this after his bike fit was over.”

Firstly, no bike fitter without a wind tunnel or computational fluid dynamic analytics can guess at the behavior of the boundary layer of air surrounding your body across the entire performance envelope.

Secondly, even if they could, the constantly changing variables of speed, terrain, wind yaw angle and rider posture would make that snapshot in time a very fleeting case study.

Thirdly, while rider aerodynamic drag is the most significant force to overcome in cycling even at moderate speeds, wind tunnel positioning concepts were developed in testing at very high speeds, usually over 25 MPH. British professional triathlon coach Russell Cox discovered the median bike speed for the Men’s 40-44 age category at Ironman Florida, one of the fastest courses in the U.S., was only 17.5 MPH. At these sub-25 MPH speeds there are more opportunities for your fitter to improve your bike split through things that they can actually test for, as opposed to things they are guessing at for speeds you don’t even ride at.

The narrative “Let’s lower your bars to get you more aggressive…” is a valid way to tell if a bike fitter is regurgitating empty rhetoric from YouTube, a triathlon forum, or a three-day fit clinic.

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Faster Bike Shop in Scottsdale, Arizona was the first and is likely the only bike retailer in the U.S. with actual wind tunnel test facilities.

If a fitter tries to critique your aerodynamics challenge them by asking, “Can we measure my drag coefficient before and after any changes?” You’ll likely get the sideways puppy stare or a litany of qualifying excuses. Don’t fall for it. There is only one bike retailer in the United States with a wind tunnel, Faster in Tempe, Arizona. If you aren’t there, then your fitter is guessing.

 

  1. Are They Trying to make you “Straight”?

There is a sub-segment of bike fitting and positioning that tries to enforce symmetry on the human form. The only symmetrical human is Mona Lisa. The rest of us are crooked.

It’s simple to use lasers and shims to try to make a person “straight”, but it may create further skeletal misalignment since our skeletons are usually not straight and symmetrical, especially as we age and accumulate injuries.

The craft of the experienced fitter is to find a functional balance between moderating asymmetries that could contribute to discomfort, or even an injury, and facilitating them. There is likely a “sweet spot” between facilitation and adaptation that provides the optimal benefit to each unique rider. This sweet spot is different for a new triathlete than a person doing their 10th Ironman.

If a bike fitter’s singular goal is to “get you straight” you should tell them to get bent.

 

  1. Do They Acknowledge Their Limitations?

Many bike fitters try to- or claim to be able to- do too much.

A retail bike fitter should be able to recommend a new bike model, frame size name and geometry that fits you optimally for the type of cycling you want to do. They can then adjust that bike for an optimal basic position, often using different handlebar stems, aerobars and other size-specific components to achieve the best result. Then, they can use any number of analytical tools to verify the results against commonly known bike fit standards.

That’s all.

Bike fitters can’t make you comfortable or “fix” you. They can’t add additional fitness or make you less overweight. They can’t produce the perfect saddle that feels right to you. You still have to train, lose weight if you are overweight and get acclimated to sitting on a bike seat. Those things don’t happen in a two-hour bike fit.

Unless the bike fitter in your store has a formal University level credential in anatomy, physical therapy, medicine or exercise physiology that should be their boundary, and they should respect their customers by working within their boundaries.

Beware of the bike fitter who tries to do too much without the degree to back it up. If a bike fitter learns a customer is suffering from a sports injury they are correct to refer them to a qualified physical therapist. Some licensed physical therapists now have formal instruction in bike fitting too, and you (or your health insurance) will pay extra for that, but it is worth it.

If your bike shop bike fitter tries to play physical therapist, limp out of there.

 

  1. How Long Have They Been Doing Bike Fits? 

Ten years ago it was still easy to sell a bike with a quick test ride. Now customers are smart enough to demand a more empirical, data supported process to selecting and adjusting the right bike. As a result there has been an explosion in the number of new “bike fitters” in the last ten years.

Not all of the new bike fitters are good.

Many new bike fitters are adequate and recognize their capabilities- and limitations- but many are also quick-talking hucksters who can sling the lingo and the laser beams to appear credible.

Ask your bike fitter questions about their training, their experience, their own cycling background and their limitations. A fitter who claims to be able to do everything has big shoes to fill.

 

  1. Are They Willing to Recommend Equipment They Don’t Sell?

It’s a good sign if a bike fitter occasionally “walks” a customer by telling them he has nothing in his store to fit them. That suggests their first motive is to get the customer on the right bike, not just get a bike out the door.

A specialty bike shop will stock a well-planned assortment of bikes that have subtly different fit characteristics. Some work well for larger, heavier riders, some for smaller riders, some for long torso cyclists, others for short torso cyclists.

When Triathlon Hall of Famer and inventor of the triathlon bike, Dan Empfield, invented the “Stack and Reach” table for comparing bike dimensions he created a kind of Rosetta Stone for bike fitters to make meaningful comparisons of different bikes and their dimensions. This leveled the playing field and decoded cryptic bike brand size names that have little to do with actual bike dimensions. Empfield’s accounting of bike dimensions gave bike fitters one of their most valuable tools since the tape measure, and also held fitters accountable for being honest.

 

  1. Are They Good Listeners? 

A good bike fitter conducts an interview with his customers, listening to their experiences, their goals and what they are thinking very carefully. This leads to more questions from the bike fitter. In fact, a good bike fitter often asks the customer more questions than the customer asks them when selecting a new bike.

The best bike fitters listen carefully to position their clients optimally on a continuum between facilitation and adaptation. Facilitating a client means the fitter exclusively listens to the client and does what they say makes them comfortable. Adapting a client means the fitter applies known principles of bike fitting without input from the rider and says, “This is right, get used to it.” The best bike fitters know how to listen to their clients to find the optimal balance between these extremes.

Some bike fitters try to be know-it-alls or local heroes. They try to mold each client into a specific posture or fit model, and they have little space left in their effusive knowledge of all things bike fit, cycling and triathlon related to learn anything from a lowly client. If you can’t get your bike fitter to listen to you, let them talk to the hand.

Craig Turner, founder of Nytro, one of the first triathlon shops in the world, is also one of the best listeners and bike fitters in the industry.

Craig Turner, founder of Nytro, one of the first triathlon shops in the world, is also one of the best listeners and bike fitters in the industry.

I once listened to Craig Turner, founder of Nytro in Encinitas, California, work with a bike customer. I was surprised by how little Craig said, how much he listened, and how he restated the key points the customer made back to them. It was clear that Turner was a careful and analytical interviewer, asking the right questions and leaving space for complete answers. When he was done with the interview he had the expertise to make learned and supportable recommendations. It was like listening to an expert attorney advise a client.

 

 

About The Author:

theauthor

 

While Tom Demerly can be full of shit he has been fitting bicycles since 1984 and performed well over 5,000 bike fittings including Olympic athletes Sheila Taormina and Olympian, National Champion and Tour de France rider Frankie Andreu. More importantly, Demerly has fit thousands of first time triathletes and only a few of them still have numb crotches.