Monthly Archives: April 2016

By Tom Demerly for


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 (formerly at; Dan Empfield, founder of 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 He recently went to


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.


With Jim Felt, founder of Felt Bicycles (left) and Dan Empfield of (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, 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.



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.








By Tom Demerly for

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.

Handful of Hell 20

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.

Handful of Hell 100

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.


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.


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.


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”.

cia alias


By Tom Demerly.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.








By Tom Demerly.


Happy customers, shiny new bikes, talk of rides and races to come on warm mornings and long days. Sunny Saturdays in the bike shop are always fun. We sell toys for grown-ups, and our store is a bright and cheerful place.

Until someone asks about that bike.

It hangs in the back corner of our store, out of the way, near the restrooms. It’s above the drinking fountain over old shoes and helmets marked down for clearance.

Sometimes we lie to people about it.

Because the truth is too frightening.

18 July 1995.

11:46 AM Local, Tuesday, Route Nationale 618, Outside Audressein, South West France.

He’s a fine looking lad.

Eyes look wide apart because a champion pro cyclist has to be so skinny. Dark hair, wavy- like a statue of an athlete in a museum. He’s a hero in his hometown of Como, Italy. This is what boys are supposed to do- grow up to be great athletes. He’s already an Olympic Gold Medalist, 1992 Barcelona. He won the crowning bike event there, the Men’s Road Race. All of Italy went wild.

Fabio Casartelli became their son after that- all of Italy’s son. Their great promise. A rising hero. Italy loves their heroes and Fabio Casartelli is a worthy idol.


Casartalli wins the Olympic Gold Medal in the Men’s Road Race in 1992 in Barcelona, Spain.

Now he is hurtling down a mountain on his team Motorola racing bike in the first hour of Stage 15 in the Tour de France. He is descending the Col de Portet d’Aspet in the French Pyrenees.

Top professional cyclists routinely reach speeds over 50 MPH on mountain descents, and the narrow, spastic roads of the Haute-Garonne region seem to have been planned by a man having a seizure. They wind like a venomous snake held by the tail trying to bite its captor.

Scott Parr is used to this. He sits back seat in a team car that can’t keep pace with descending cyclists in the 15th stage of this Tour de France. The bikes are faster than the team cars going down the mountains, so the cars have to back off.

Parr is an elite level pro team mechanic. The cycling equivalent of a one-man Formula 1 pit crew. He rides in a suped-up Fiat support car for the Motorola Cycling Team. In the car with him are spare wheels, custom tools he’s made just for servicing race bikes, the team director and, a relatively new development in the Tour de France, two-way radios.

Car tires screech on the descent. You can smell brakes and hot rubber. The sports car disc brakes on the Fiat are too hot to touch now as the car heels side to side on the twisted descent. Parr braces himself in the back seat like a pilot in a dogfighting jet.

The two-way radio carries French commentary of the race and official announcements. It’s the usual traffic. News of the leaders, positions of the vehicles in the support caravan. Then the two words that turn warm blood to ice water come over the radio:

“Chute! Chute brutale…!”

Parr is ready. It’s a well-drilled routine. The car will pull to the right. He will have already opened the door when it skids to a halt. Like a bicycle service SWAT team he will run from the back of the car, one front wheel and one rear wheel in hand. He can change a rear wheel in less than eight seconds, a front even faster.

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Top pro team mechanic, author of “Tales from the Toolbox” and founder of The Bike & Tri Shop, Scott Parr, works on one of the Motorola Team bikes at the Tour de France.

“This radio call was something different” Scott Parr tells me. “Usually they announce the team name involved in the crash. On this one, there was nothing. It was weird.” Scott is glancing around the room now. Uncomfortable recounting that day. Face turning red. Unusual for him.

With a cool head and a steady hand Parr will make a wheel change, bend something back into place, help a rider remount and give him a quick push to get him going again. That’s how it usually goes.

But this stop is different.

The crash scene is a wide, sweeping left-hander on excellent pavement. Bright green trees on either side of the road. Brilliant sunshine. The terrain to the right of the road plummets almost vertically off a cliff through tangled brush. No guardrail, but rather, a series of white concrete blocks about a foot high spaced six feet apart. There is no run-off area. You miss the turn, you go off the cliff.

It is a melee’. Five men are down. Only four are on the road though. That’s important.

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The crash scene: A. Unknown rider. B. Kelme rider Juan Cesar Aguirre. C. Motorola rider Fabio Casartelli. D. German rider Dirk Baldinger.

The first man is frozen in shock. He seems to be comfortably seated on the road facing outward, as if to take in the view off the cliff. He sits oddly still, no reaction. At his feet is a tangle of racing bikes.

The second man seems comfortably lying in a ball, as if exhausted and sleeping, his legs drawn up with left arm over them. It looks like a position a cat might sleep in, except he is lying in the middle of a mountain road with bike racers and race team cars hurtling within inches of him. He’s motionless.

An expanding slick of bright red blood pours down the slope of the road from his head. So much blood…

The third man is still in the fight. He has gone into the battle drill of a crashed cyclist. He is standing, signaling for a new bike from his team car, he grips his left thigh, presumably where he landed. His only motive is to rejoin the race. Team cars barely miss him hurtling down the descent, horns bleating above the chaos.

The fourth man, it’s hard to tell from grainy race video 21 years later, appears to be sorting out his bike on the pavement.

Four men. Someone is missing.

French rider Dante Rezze of the Aki cycling team.

Rezze is not a handsome man. Compared to the darling Fabio Casartelli, Rezze looks like a boxer who has suffered the blows of a dubious career. His black olive hair stands too high in an awkward pompadour.

Rezze carried too much speed into this wide left-hander, missed the turn entirely and soared off the cliff in an arcing trajectory into open space. The only thing that stopped his freefall were the branches of trees below. Miraculously, he survives. His left leg is broken.

Back up on the road German rider Dirk Baldinger’s face is drawn into a tight grimace. Baldinger’s leg, or hip, are fractured from the crash. He will abandon the race due to his injuries.

Modest Columbian support rider Juan Cesar Aguirre of the Kelme team is also down, less seriously injured perhaps but entirely demoralized by the ordeal. He abandons the race here. He was the waving man, initially fighting to get back into the race.

Rezze and Baldinger are med-evaced by ground ambulance to treat their fractures. An ad-hoc recovery team has discovered the fallen Dante Rezze and is brainstorming recovery techniques for pulling him up the cliff.

But back on the road there is horror.

Dr. Gerard Porte is on the scene now, the official medical director of the Tour de France. Dr. Porte is skilled in the emergency treatment of injured cyclists. He follows the race in a specially equipped medical support car. He is kneeling in an expanding slick of blood streaming from Casartelli’s battered head.

Porte has never seen a cycling crash like this.

Quoted in the New York Times by famous cycling journalist Samuel Abt, Dr. Porte told journalists, “I arrived 10 seconds after the fall. I could tell it was a serious injury. Casartelli had cuts that were bleeding badly. We did everything in the best conditions and as fast as we could. But he had very serious cuts, and when there’s such heavy bleeding you know it was [a] very powerful impact.”

Casartelli was not wearing a helmet.

A French-built Eurocopter AS350 Écureuil helicopter is summoned via emergency radio to evacuate Casartelli to the hospital. Reports say his heart stopped in the medevac helicopter en route to the hospital.

At 14:39 Jean-Marie Leblanc, Director of the Tour de France, makes an announcement on internal race radio.

Motorola rider Fabio Casartelli is dead.

In a gut-punching epilogue Casartelli leaves behind his wife Annalisa who had only just given birth to their first son Marco.

It’s a terrifying contrast: one moment a rising star athlete with a fresh new family gallantly descending a mountain in the Tour de France, the next a contorted corpse in the fetal position on the hot pavement with a battered skull gushing dark blood.

21 Years Later. 

Back in our store Scott Parr tells me he was in shock that day. It’s the first time he’s talked about the crash in all the years I’ve known him. He is a quiet and controlled man, not given to emotion or embellishment.

“One by one the other team cars drove up to us, alongside our car. They all said they were sorry- offered their condolences…”

Parr looks to his right. Eyes red now. He has nothing more to say about the accident. The years of silence about the crash had broken momentarily, now the silence returns.


A memorial stands on the route where Casartelli crashed. It’s become a shrine for cyclists around the world.

The next day he tells me “You can take some pictures of the bike if you want. Maybe it’s time to write something about it.”

The bike is an Eddy Merckx. Handmade in Belgium. One of Casartelli’s spare bikes. It is Columbus MXL cro-moly tubing. A heavy bike by today’s standards, it uses a series of lugs or joints to connect the individual frame tubes in a difficult assembly and brazing process.

casartelli 220

It uses Shimano Dura-Ace components, 8-speed back then. The STI brake/shift levers are old skool, with external cable routing. The stem is a quill-style. The original bike used a titanium Cinelli Grammo stem that has since been replaced.

It was repainted at the Eddy Merckx factory in Zellik, on the outskirts of Brussels, Belgium. The original bike said “Caloi” on it, a sponsor of the team at the time. The new paint is beautiful, with the Merckx logos carefully outlined.

casartelli 110

Many of the fasteners are special blue anodized bolts made by SRP, or Specialty Racing Products, an aftermarket manufacturer of lightweight fasteners who sponsored the Motorola cycling team.

A few of the components have been changed, the wheels, a few other things, but this is Casartelli’s frame. And it hangs as a quiet reminder. A quiet tribute. A quiet caution.

casartelli 170

Helmets became mandatory in professional cycling soon after the Casartelli tragedy. Even though initial reports suggested a helmet would not have prevented Casartelli’s death a subsequent report revealed that a helmet likely would have saved him. And so, today, we all wear helmets. Mostly because of Fabio.

What happens to a person as they lay dying? Do they know they’re dying? Are they trying to hold on, to tighten the grip on the only fleeting life we know? Does something welcome them? That light people talk about? Or is it just comforting darkness? It’s frightening to ponder. Sometimes when I pass it, Casartelli’s bike asks me that question. And it always reminds me to wear a helmet, be aware of my surroundings on the bike and use caution.

And Scott seldom mentions the bike, but it continues to hang above our drinking fountain.




Author Tom Demerly raced bicycles quite poorly in Europe with the Nike/Velo-News/Gatorade Cycling Team in 1990. Now he writes about cycling, which he finds substantially easier.


By Tom Demerly.


On Wednesday, April 13, 2016 online publication 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 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:


  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.


  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.


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.


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.


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).


“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.



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.