Monday, February 11, 2008

Who I Am, What This Blog Is All About, How Maintenance Can Make You Faster For Less, and What Makes Lube Alluring

From The American Heritage College Dictionary

maintain tr. v. –tained, -taining, tains. 3. To keep in a condition of good repair or efficiency.

From -



133 up, 13 down

To keep your composure even in the most adverse and drunken circumstance.

Dude I need to maintain or I won't make it to the next bar.

I’m Stephan and I like to ride bikes. You probably ride a bike, too, and if you ride a bike, you like to go fast. Maybe you like sitting up on your cruiser with your arms out and the wind pushing you along, maybe you like winding your 54x11 to 200 rpm and holding it until you feel an aneurism forming, maybe you like finding hills so steep that you have a 2.3-inch wide callous on your tailbone from where you sit on your rear tire-

whew....trackies, BMXers, and 'crossers will get their own postings....

-but however you do it, you like to go fast, at least sometimes, maybe always.

It seems that magazine editors know this at least as well as I do, because they’re busting the bindings of their publications with info on how to go, not fast, but faster (my favorite contributions to this body of knowledge come from Bicycling, like this month’s “Legs Of Steel: Do This Now”). You read them, and suddenly what seemed fast before seems slow now, and what seems fast now will be slow later, until any given ride becomes just another stage in the the maximization of your cycling-specific athletic potential. Eventually, you become page 68 of The Cyclist's Training Bible....

Alright, I'm being overly dramatic, and God knows there are many of us who don't even know what The Cyclist's Training Bible is, though it is a good book hah hah hah. But there really is an overwhelming amount of info out there on how to ride faster, jump higher, and hopefully stop more effectively. And it’s hard to look away, because who doesn’t want to learn how to suffer less in a headwind, or eke a little more rhythm out of a trail. But blessed be the readers who flip through those magazines and laugh it all off, or better yet amuse themselves by heading straight for the increasingly bizarre classified sections (while you’re looking at this month’s Bicycling check out how the ad for a “2 Seat Bike – Drives Like A Car,” is placed right next to “Spoil Her For Valentine’s Day! Send Her A Pajamagram!” Chances are anyone who buys the first then tries to do the second will end up turning in frustration to the inflatable companion sold on the following page).

Because the fact is, fulfilling as maximizing athletic potential can be, Cycling ain’t something you can do wearing a pair of sneaks and an old t-shirt; “cycling,” yes, but “Cycling,” which is what the magazines are talking about, not so much. It’s a technical, equipment-intensive, and potentially expensive sport. True, there are plenty of trends that celebrate the simplicity of the bicycle, like beater-bike races, or the fixed-gear fad that’s probably passing its apex as I’m writing this, but the fact remains that if you grow addicted to riding fast relative to others or to yourself, that is to say, if you become a Cyclist, you’ll eventually learn why “upgrade” is heard in bike shops as frequently as “presta or schrader?”

Ironically, the exception to this is the Professional Cyclist, particularly the Professional Road Cyclist. I say “ironically” because when it comes to the best equipment, the Professional Road Cyclists has it all as a result of possessing the talent to not actually need it. Entire bike companies stake their reputations on the performance advantages their products supposedly offer, but the fact remains that, when mechanics of practically all the pro road teams have to tape weights to their riders’ bikes so they're heavy enough to meet the UCI’s minimum weight limit, the most significant performance advantages have to come from the riders themselves, either from training or diet or….well, enough has been said on that topic, so let's look to the future. Go Slipstream….

However, you’re not a Professional Road Cyclist, not even close, despite the twenty or so percent of you who think you are, based on those occasional reader polls on the subject. In your case, upgrades are often directly related to that coveted sweetness of speed. And unless you have an unlimited amount of money to spend on equipment (true for more than you may think; check out the Master’s B field at your next local race), or are willing to live out the back of your Corolla on a steady diet of Rahmen noodles to free up the rest of your so-called income for your bike, you’re going to need to pick your battles: upgrade your tires or your chainrings? Get the stiffer stem or the seatpost with adjustable setback? Replace all of your steel bearings with ceramic ones at a cost equal to one month’s rent without utilities, or get four ounces of chain lube for less than a pack of condoms?

Not that I'm suggesting you give up safe sex in return for a smooth, efficient drivetrain,, I'm not. But if you're a guy and you ride, conventional wisdom says you're useless for that kind of thing anyway, and if you're a girl....well, make him buy 'em.

Chapter 10, In Which He Finally Comes To The Point

Sorry, I got a little distracted there....Now, I know the improvements in performance offered by a full ceramic bearing upgrade and a lube aren’t necessarily equivalent, but here’s what I’m saying: a couple of weeks ago, during a rare warm spell here in upstate New York, I rode a friend’s Cervelo Soloist Carbon after he’d upgraded all of the bearings, and I mean all, right down to the derailleur pulleys, for about $350, just like CSC does with their bikes. I should say "only $350;" he got them wholesale.

I’d ridden the bike before, and I immediately noticed the difference. It was worth at least a gear, possibly two, and I’m sure it would have been easy to quantify with a power meter. Considering how many races are won by half a wheel, one could say that, all other things being equal, it was a race-winning (or, in non-competitive terms, faster-making) upgrade.

But the thing that kept coming to mind was what the ride reminded me most of, qualitatively speaking: a clean drivetrain lubricated with a quality lube.

Which, of course, you can get for about $340.01 less than the ceramic bearing upgrade….

Again, I know I’m exaggerating here, but really, I think you can see what I mean, and I really do believe that the improvements in performance are not all that dissimilar. As a mechanic, it’s always blown my mind to see the lengths people will go through to imitate the pros, without ever considering the humble combination of degreaser and quality lube that every pro mechanic spends hours utilizing, from making the choice of what lube to use for what condition (more on this in another entry), to cleaning riders’ bikes both efficiently and thoroughly (more on this in another entry), to knowing what parts to lube, and what parts not to (more on this in another entry).


If you really want to imitate the pros, consider this. Lube is beautiful, it’s lore, the stuff of legends, tradition, technology, sublime as a Rapha cycling cap. The knowledge of how to apply it correctly, in a manner that will make the difference between winning and losing, between needing a bike change at a ‘cross race and not needing one, is the bailiwick of that old Belgian mechanic who cut his teeth on the infields of the Ghent Six, the one with the tired, lined face and fingers sensitive enough to tell by plucking the exact tension of a spoke, but strong as steel pliers, making them unsuitable for the derrieres of French podium girls. Not that he cares; he’d rather sit in the back of the team truck under a single light bulb, lubing his riders’ chains one….link…at….a…..time…..because he knows. He knows that tomorrow he will not be the one leaning out of the team car window, trying to squirt lube onto a chain at 28 mph. while the break disappears up the road in pouring rain. No, tonight he will use Finish Line Pro Road, and tomorrow smile, maybe, at the victory celebration before shrugging his way into the cold to clean off the bikes and begin all over again his ageless pursuit….

C’mon, are you telling me you don’t want to be that guy?

And even if you don’t, consider this: I mentioned above how the ceramic bearing upgrade felt like a clean, well-lubed drivetrain. That feeling is worth a ton in intangibles; it belongs to a whole category of other feelings that make you faster, like the feeling you get from a tailwind, a draft, berms on a trail, the banking on a track….it’s like Leipheimer said in the January issue of Velonews, about the sensations he experienced as he was getting his time checks during his awesome final time trial at last year’s Tour:

And that builds, you know. You’re able to push yourself all that much harder…

In the case of lube, you're talking momentum for less than $10. You’ve gotta love it.

And best of all, you can do it yourself, unlike the ceramic bearing upgrade, which I would be willing to wager you cannot, unless you’re a fairly confident bike shop or team mechanic with access to tools like a bearing puller. And even then….all I can say is that, by the end of this week, my friend was complaining that it sounded like Captain Crunch had taken up residence in his bottom bracket. The kid who installed those was no Alejandro Torralbo, and neither are you (to the first person to correctly identify Alejandro Torralbo goes a free 4 oz. bottle of my current favorite lube, Finish Line Pro Road CR; “CR” stands for “Ceramically Reinforced;” more on why that’s brilliant in another entry....)

And let’s not forget one last and exceedingly important point: cleaning and lubrication don’t just enhance the performance of a drivetrain. They protect it from early wear, essentially saving you more at each turn of the crank. Last time I looked (this morning, in a fit of lust), a Dura-Ace group was retailing for about $1,300….

So the moral of all this yapping: you need to clean and lube your chain anyway, so you may as well do it, do it right, do it often, and reward yourself by riding faster for less.

Before I go, I’d like to address a question that I feel is insufficiently asked by bloggers of themselves….

What gives me the write?

Nothing, really, an admission I’m making in the hopes that my humility will make me seem like more of a good guy than I actually am. Technically speaking, I suppose what qualifies me is ten years riding, racing, living, and breathing bikes, and what I’ve always held up to myself as a relentlessly objective view of everything in the cycling industry, including my own abilities and habits as a mechanic. I’ve worked in shops, as a service manager, store manager, buyer, and seller, and I've also worked for manufacturers, mostly in marketing, because I like to tell tall tales, then cut them down to size.

And did I mention that I like to ride fast?

Thanks for reading (as Tyler would have it; curious to see what he makes of Rock Racing),


Which reminds me: if you haven’t seen it yet, CHECK OUT THIS EXCELLENT SPOT BEFORE IT DISAPPEARS:

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