“What is it with you Northwest guys and fenders?”

Not too long ago I was on the phone with Zapata Espinoza, an old friend, who is currently a writer and editor at Road Bike Action magazine. He lives and works in L.A. The first thing he said to me was, “What is it with you Northwest guys and fenders?” Turns out he’d just got off the phone with a mutual friend of ours who also lives in the Northwest, and all he wanted to do was talk about fenders. Zap doesn’t understand fenders. If it rains in L.A. you just don’t ride.

Full Fender (Photo Courtesy of Doug Rosenfield)

Full Fender (Photo Courtesy of Doug Rosenfield)

I patiently tried to explain that, in the Northwest, even if it wasn’t raining, that the road was wet for about 9 months of the year and that those of us that rode year round rightly appreciated that a well designed set of fenders, properly installed, would prevent us from pumping grit filled water through the moving parts of our expensive bicycles. I could tell he was struggling to grasp the concept. He said, “Euro Pros don’t use fenders in races and they ride in all kinds of awful weather”. Calmly I agreed that was in fact true, but added that I knew for a fact that most Euro pros did have fenders on their training bikes. The climate in Belgium and in Olympia is not so different after all. Still unconvinced Zap asked,”So, you use those kind of half fenders that attach with rubber bands? What are they called? Race Blades?” No, I answered they’re too short, don’t offer full coverage, they rattle around when you ride, and worst of all spray water right into the face of your riding buddies.

A full fender and mudflap are essential to really good protection from water and road grit (Photo Courtesy of Doug Rosenfield)

A full fender and mudflap are essential to really good protection from water and road grit (Photo Courtesy of Doug Rosenfield)

At this point I should probably provide a little background on Zap. When I first met him he was the editor at “Mountain Bike Action” magazine. I was product manager at Fisher Mountain Bikes. Zap had come to mountain bikes via off road motorcycles. I’d come via road bikes. He has a lot of tattoos, and was once featured in a book on body piercings. I don’t have any tattoos or body piercings. I’m also about twenty years older. But it didn’t matter. The first time we met we hit it off right away. I love him like a brother or maybe a son.

So I struggled on with my explanation. Explaining that one of the great things that had happened in the last three or four years was that fenders in the classic style made from aluminum and stainless steel were once again readily available. These classic style fenders were longer, lighter, worked better, and were certainly better looking than the plastic fenders we’d been forced to use for a number of years. Perhaps most amazingly a company named Velo Orange had figured out how to source them so that they were only marginally more expensive than the plastic ones. Finally, I explained that we almost always added front and rear mud flaps which often came within an inch of the ground. The front fender is to keep the spray from the front wheel from being directed at the bottom bracket and drive train, and the rear one to keep the spray from the bottom of the rear fender from flying into our friends faces. We are civilized in the northwest after all. I thought for a second about going into the fine points of Showers Pass’s new Pro Elite raincoat, or perhaps trying to explain why I prefer neoprene shoe covers.

The full fenders and mudflap on this Stevenson tandem protect the bike, the riders, and the people riding with them from water and grit (Photo Courtesy of Doug Rosenfield)

The full fenders and mudflaps on this Stevenson tandem protect the bike, the riders, and the people riding with them from water and grit (Photo Courtesy of Doug Rosenfield)

There was a long silence, finally Zap said, “Maybe I’ll wait for spring to visit”. Realizing that I’d failed to explain the joys of rain riding to my old friend I could only sigh, the cultural gap is just too large. Not too surprising I guess. Even when I lived there I was pretty sure L.A. was another planet and a desert planet at that.

By Bill Stevenson

This article previously appeared in the Capital Bicycling Club Newsletter

Posted in Cycle Sportive Lifestyle, Road Bicycles | Tagged , , , , , | 4 Comments

What I Say, Not What I Do: Creating My Own Example of the Limitations of the Production Road Bicycle

It’s no fun to be your own negative example. I had that experience recently and I’m happy to share because it reinforces one of the main thrusts of this blog- that many of us should be riding more appropriate road bicycles.

You might figure you are safe in assuming that somebody that writes a blog about cycle sportive bicycles and builds frames for a living would have an amazing lugged bike with classic styling and perfect club bike geometry and fender clearance. If only it were so.

My Kwai Photo Courtesy of Doug Rosenfield

My Kwai
Photo Courtesy of Doug Rosenfield

I’ve got a few bikes. My fixed-gear is a 1963 Carlton and certainly works with big tires and fenders. I’ve also got a custom Stevenson that an extremely generous customer passed on to me. That bike is a bit of a work in progress and not currently available for everyday riding. That leaves me with my third bike and current everyday ride, my Kwai.

Kwai was a small Portland firm partnered with a Taiwanese builder. They hired my father to design their frames for them. His goal was to create an interesting sportive style bike, but there were some serious limitations. They wanted to build the frames out of Columbus Starship, an aluminum tube set. They insisted on using a conventional carbon fork. The final production was not quite to spec, one of the deviations from the design was the omission of the chain stay bridge for fender attachment. In short, they ended up building a typical re-purposed race bike with all the limitations we typically find on production road bikes.


The marginal fender clearance with a 700x25 tire is clear in this picture. Photo Courtesy of Doug Rosenfield

The marginal fender clearance with a 700×25 tire is clear in this picture.
Photo Courtesy of Doug Rosenfield


The bike does have some charms. Columbus Starship builds a very light frame. The frame was designed with the seat stays crossing over the seat tube without attaching. This was intended to give a little more vertical compliance to avoid the teeth-rattling rigidity that is the norm in aluminum frames and my subjective evaluation is that it does ride better than other aluminum bikes I’ve ridden. It’s also got stays with elegant bends in a small homage to classic Hetchins frames, a feature that was also aimed at improving ride quality. It weighs in right at twenty pounds built up with a mix of Dura Ace and Ultegra, a leather saddle, fenders, and heavier Mavic CXP-22 clincher rims.

The conventional production road bike characteristics detract from the bike quite a bit. The carbon fork rides okay and is extremely light, but it doesn’t have fender eyelets, has limited clearances, and standard race bike offset. The limitation of having to make the bike work with the standard offset for a racing bike resulted in a fair amount of toe-overlap on the 52CM frame that is the closest fit for me, especially with fenders. Installing fenders is a hassle. I had a pair of Michelin Pro Race 700x25s lying around. They are nice tires and I like running 25s, but it was a real challenge to get them to work at all on the bike and the clearance between the tire and fender is virtually non-existent. I used plastic zip ties to install the fenders because I didn’t have the right p-clamps handy, which would have given a more solid installation. This worked fine for three years, but finally caught up with me last Thursday.


Zip ties provide a functional, but less than elegant means of fender attachment. Photo Courtesy of the Author

Zip ties provide a functional, but less than elegant means of fender attachment.
Photo Courtesy of the Author


I was riding to meet my fiancee at work, so we could ride home together. There is a convenient rails-to-trails bike path from near our house to her where she works. At one point, it crosses a busy arterial street and a freeway on-ramp. On the far side you have to transition a small traffic island and cross the entrance to the ramp. Cars are supposed to yield, but you can’t count on it. I was preparing to cross this section when a yahoo in a black Camaro rolled up talking on his cell phone (which happens to be illegal in Washington state). He wasn’t accelerating, but it wasn’t clear that he was going to stop either. I didn’t want to find out, so I hit the brakes and did a track stand. My track stand abilities are so-so and I usually ratchet my front wheel when I set up. At a near stop this is no big deal because I can line my cranks up correctly, but in this case I was braking pretty hard and I didn’t have time to think and turned the front wheel into the toe of my Giro cycling shoe. I stuck the track stand, but in the process I broke the zip-tie holding the fender in place.


My Fender Stay Flapping in the Wind Photo Courtesy of the Author

My Fender Stay Flapping in the Wind
Photo Courtesy of the Author


The yahoo in the black Camaro rolled past obliviously and I coasted to the other side of the road and tried to figure out what had happened. The right fender stay was flapping in the breeze. I didn’t have the right tools to take the fender off or a zip tie to reattach it. I tried calling my partner to have her bring me a zip tie or something, but I couldn’t get a good signal on my cell phone, so I did my best to line things up correctly and rode on the last mile to meet her. I had to take it very easy because I didn’t want the stay to end up in the spokes. I ended up taking some paint off the inside of the fender and inflicted a bit of unwanted wear and tear on my high-end front tire, but I got there without incident. Her workplace is very bike commuter supportive, so I was able to access some tools. We weren’t able to jury rig a reattachment, so I took the front brake off, removed the fender, and put the bike back in order. The fender went in my lovely future wife’s rear basket and we rode home. Fortunately, it is July, so the roads were dry and I didn’t end up with any grit in my front teeth, but the whole experience was a big hassle.


My front fender heads home in my fiancee's basket. Photo Courtesy of the Author

My front fender heads home in my fiancee’s basket.
Photo Courtesy of the Author


It was also an avoidable one. If the bike had fender eyes I would have bent the stay, but I could have easily bent it back. If my dad hadn’t been locked into using a production carbon fork, with a set offset, when he designed the bike, he could have adjusted the head tube angle and trail to reduce or eliminate the toe-overlap that put my foot in the fender. Neither of these refinements would have had a noticeable effect on the weight or performance of the bike. Either would probably have prevented my mishap. The bottom line is that if the frame had been built with its likely everyday use in mind, the bike would have served me better without making it any less sporty or fun to ride and I could have avoided being my own bad example.

Posted in Road Bicycles | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Seven Characteristics of a Well-Designed Cycle Sportive Bicycle

Photo courtesy of Alan Woods

Photo courtesy of Alan Woods

Before we start delving into historical and contemporary examples and minutae such as specific component spec, it is worth making an initial attempt to quantify the defining characteristics of a well designed cycle sportive bicycle. Off the top of my head, I think that a good sportive bike will be charactereized by at least seven definsing characterstics-

Performance Geometry and Componentry:

In the past sportive bicyles often did double duty as racing bikes. You can make an argument that more specialized bicycles are optimum for road racing today, but a sportive bike should be a performance machine. Within the limitations imposed by the need to be an all-rounder, the bicycle should be light and should have geometry optimized for performance. You want your everyday bike to be fun to ride. You also want it to get you farther, faster, and easier and to be confidence inspiring in situations that require good handling. The bike needs to be at home on a fast club ride. In my opinion it is the optimum machine for maximizing your speed on rides around the century to double-century range and its design and component choices needs to reflect that.

Tire Clearance:

A good sportive bike should eat up chipseal and other bad road conditions. This means that it needs to be designed to handle a bigger tire. Something in 28mm range with fenders is a minimum.

kurt nelson stevenson 719

Kurt Nelson’s Custom Stevenson Shows Good Fender Line with a Larger Tire
Photo courtesy of Doug Rosenfield

Fender Braze-ons:

A good sportive bike should have double fender eylets front and rear. This helps with solid installation that will keep your fenders in place and minimize any rattles or vibrations. It also helps get a good fender line that follows the profile of the tire.

Proper Brakes:

The bike needs to have brakes that will work with the larger tire and fenders. This can mean long reach side-pulls, cantilevers, or center-pulls. My personal inclination is towards the latter, but good results are possible with all three types as long as they are integrated well into the overall frame design.

Center-Pull Brakes are a Good Option With Larger Tires and Fenders Photo courtesy of Alan Woods

Center-Pull Brakes are a Good Option With Larger Tires and Fenders
Photo courtesy of Alan Woods


The frame and the components need to be able to stand up to regular use over decades. This doesn’t mean the bike should be a tank (in fact it should be as light as possible), but it shouldn’t be designed like a single-season race bike. Unlike many expensive carbon machines it needs to be crashable.


To date, the vast majority of high-quality cycle sportive bikes have been made from steel tubing. There are some true sportive bikes out there in titanium and I am open to the concept of a carbon sportive bike, although brittleness and difficulty of repair are strong marks against carbon. There are a lot of good reasons to go with steel. It is repairable. A good frame builder can re-tube a frame, remove dents, or realign a bent frame with a minimum of hassle and expense. Years of cycling have convinced me that steel continues to offer the best balance of ride quality, comfort, and performance- especially over longer distances. Modern tubing like Reynolds 953 or True Temper S3 can be used to build some very lightweight, but durable machines.

Aluminum should be avoided. Aluminum tubing is rigid and translates road shock, resulting in a harsh uncomfortable ride, especially over longer distances. It just isn’t a good choice for this sort of bike, despite the potential for light weight.

Low Trail:

For longer rides and commuting it is often desirable to be able to use a loaded handlebar bag. Low trail steering geometry results in better handling with a front load.


Other Considerations

There are a few other things that I think should be considered, but aren’t necessarilly defining:

Extras Are Easy to Remove:

In my view, components like fenders and lights should be easily removable for times when conditions are good and you want to shed the extra weight to get that little added bit of performance.


One of the main things that I feel differentiates a sportive bike from a randonneuring bike is the absence of integrated lighting on the sportive bike. Many people will use their sportive bikes as their everyday commuters. This means riding home at night during the winter. On longer rides it isn’t unusual to get caught out close to dark. Both these things make the ability to use lights desirable. A well-thought-out sportive bike might make provisions for smoothly, elegantly, and securely mounting the rider’s intendend lighting such as braze-ons for taillights and a mounting position for the headlight on the fork, axle, or bag support if used.

Rear Dropouts:

In most cases I feel that a cycle sportive bike should have vertical dropouts, so the wheel can be easily removed with the fenders installed. However, there is a lot to be said for taking your fancy drivetrain off and running a fixed-gear during the winter to save wear and tear and optimize training miles. If you plan to do this then a horizontal dropout is really the way to go.

Vertical Dropouts Allow for Easy Wheel Removal with Fenders Installed Photo Courtesy of Alan Woods

Vertical Dropouts Allow for Easy Wheel Removal with Fenders Installed
Photo Courtesy of Alan Woods

Posted in Road Bicycles | Tagged , , , | 3 Comments

A Fully Supported Road Cycling Event for Thirty People on $200?

This blog isn’t intended to be just about bikes. I also plan for it to be about what I’m calling cycle sportive culture and how we can intentionally work for that culture to grow and prosper. I think that organized and supported rides with a social component are an important part of that. They foster comradery by bringing people who may normally ride alone or in small groups together. A mixer after the ride allows people of different speeds and abilities to get to know one another and breaks down tensions that can emerge from natural, often unavoidable, frictions on group rides. Getting people spending more time together off the bike can often be the glue that puts together a successful cycling club.

In Olympia we have a well established club, The Capital Bicycling Club, that’s been going since the mid-seventies. We put on two big organized rides with attendance averaging 200-400 riders and do an okay job with the social aspects of club life. Our newest event, Ride the South Sound, incorporates a feed afterwords and really fits the model I am promoting. We put our events together with dozens of volunteers and spend a few thousand dollars putting them on and promoting them. If you are just trying to get a club started or have a small club in your community this sort of event is out of reach. I recently put on a small supported event and hope my experiences might serve as a useful model for people wanting to run inexpensive do-it-yourself organized fundraiser rides for less than one-hundred people.


Our Event: The Old Gate School Cycling Classic

The bike shop I was working at as the primary buyer rapidly downsized last fall when the economy and the introduction of a big-box REI into our community finally caught up with the parent company. My job was one of the first victims. The experience left me motivated to create a working situation where I didn’t have to have a boss, so I decided it was time to transform my and my dad’s hobby frame building operation back into a fulltime concern. We had no backlog and had intentionally avoided promotion to prevent having the production pressure that results from having a bunch of orders on the books. This meant that there would be an inevitable rebuilding process, with no income, while I created a pricing structure, set up a web page, and so on.

I’d gotten engaged last May and my fiancée and I had put down a large non-refundable deposit on a former boy scout camp for our do-it-yourself offbeat wedding. We were committed to a largish event. Our plan had always been to take a DIY approach and minimize expenses, we’re new wave radical sorts and didn’t want to support the wedding industrial complex, but we did want to throw a fun party for our community. When I lost my job, I also lost about 40% of my income, which put a big financial strain on our ability to pull off the big event. Being a self-starter, my response was to figure out a way to make up some of the shortfall, so we could give our wedding guests a nice experience. A cycling event came to mind. Some people might think that asking for money from people outside our families to support our wedding is ‘tacky,’ but in my mind what we were doing was providing a service. If we could put on a good event that provided some value, people would be happy to part with a few bucks for the experience. I didn’t want a handout. I wanted to put on event people would be happy to pay for. I talked to my wedding party, who are unsurprisingly all cyclists, and they agreed to take on the challenge and help me give it a go.

Scenic Low Traffic Roads Were a Draw for the Event

Scenic Low Traffic Roads Were a Draw for the Event

If you’ve never planned a cycling event, the prospect of doing so might seem overwhelming. I’ve organized some big rides in the past, so I was confident I could pull it off, but this was a little bit different. It would need to be done on a tiny budget, with a minimum of volunteers. I had my wedding party, my partner and I, and our immediate family, and maybe a few additional friends to count on so I needed to plan something with a maximum of ten people helping out. I figured that we could realistically expect 25-50 riders. It seemed doable. I set a maximum budget of $200 for the whole event and set it into motion.

The first step was to find a start-finish with parking. My dad, who happens to be my best man, had long wanted to run a ride from the Old Gate School. Gate is one of those communities that once had a railroad station and a reasonable population, but is now just a dot on the map and a cemetery. It straddles some nice low traffic roads that we often ride on. There was a rustic one room schoolhouse there that was no longer in use and rumor had it that it could be rented cheaply. A ride starting there could access some wonderful scenic roads that were just a little too far from town to be accessible for regular weeknight rides from Olympia. It was only about thirty-minutes away from town by I-5. It seemed like a natural choice. I explored some other options and then put a bit of effort into tracking down the people who ran the school. It turned out that it was run by a trust and if I ‘joined the school’ by kicking down $100 I could get one day use of the property. The school had plenty of parking, chairs and tables, and a kitchen. It would be a big chunk of our budget, but I figured we could make it work and that the quaint school and the routes we could put together from it would both be draws for the event.


Our Venue, The Old Gate School

The next step was to pick a date. It can rain any day,about nine months out of the year in the Pacific Northwest. We always say you can’t count on sun except from the weekend after the Fourth of July through August. Rain would deter some riders, so positioning the ride on a date during the narrow window where there was a high chance of clear weather was important for a successful event. July 21st worked for all of my volunteers and it was free of conflicts with other major cycling events in the area, so it would be a good date. The school was available that day, so I pulled the trigger and secured the venue.

Promotion was the key at this point. One of my wedding party members has done some design work for the bike shop I used to work at, so I asked him if he would create a flier and he graciously agreed to devote the time to the project. I decided a two to a standard page layout would be big enough and would save some paper. The flier was generated in record time. We printed them out on color paper, so they would draw the eye a little better. I dropped fifty of these off at the shop I used to work at where two of my wedding people still work and could them hand out to likely prospects and posted another twenty-five at shops and other locations around town. I’ve got a second WordPress profile I’ve used to try to get bike industry work in Taiwan, so I threw up a page for the ride and hosted it there. I also created a Facebook event. We’d decided on a spaghetti feed after the ride, so my lovely fiancée was inspired to create a funny graphic with the Flying Spaghetti Monster chasing a cyclist on a fixed-gear in some steampunky goggles and we used it for a header on the FB event page. I didn’t think it would be ethical to use the local bike club’s mailing list for a personal event, so I dug through all of my email contacts and compiled a list of the people I know on the list who ride. I did three timed mass emails at a month, two-weeks, and four days prior to the ride.

The Flying Spaghetti Monster Graphic Maylee Developed for the Facebook Event Page

The Flying Spaghetti Monster Graphic Maylee Developed for the Facebook Event Page

Another member of my wedding party is a randonneur with a lot of experience riding on the roads we had in mind. He agreed to come up with some routes. We decided on an eighty, a thirty, and a sixteen-mile loop. He developed the courses and mapped them out on Bike Route Toaster. This was cool because it supported downloads to Garmin GPS units and also allowed the rides to be saved online, so I could link from the web sites and social media. I wasn’t sure about the sixteen, but I hoped some of my fiancée’s friends who were not serious enthusiast cyclists might come and wanted to offer something they might be comfortable doing, but that would be a good challenge for a novice.

Abandon Hope All Ye Who Enter Here

Abandon Hope All Ye Who Enter Here

We wanted the courses to be marked. I coerced my dad into helping me do the course marking with almost no effort. Our preferred method is to have a driver and a marker. The marker navigates off of the cue sheet. When you get to a turn or a confusing section, the car stops and the marker jumps out and paints a Dan Henry arrow on the road close to the turn then walks back about twenty-five yards and paints another. If the marking is on a fast downhill it makes sense to do a third mark further back. I typically use different colors of paint for different distance loops, so riders can easily differentiate if there is any course overlap. We’ve done this a bunch of times together, so it went smoothly, although it did eat up a fair amount of time, gas, and coffee (which my cohort in crime very graciously provided). We were able to find a good wide spot for a rest stop on a section about halfway through both the eighty and the thirty-mile loops while we were driving the course. I also took the pictures you see in this post and used them to promote the event on the web page.

While I was marking the course I took images like this one to promote the ride.

While I was marking the course I took images like this one to promote the ride.

A few days before the ride we set our food plan into motion. My fiancée has some restaurant experience and is a veteran of doing food for guerrilla fundraisers and secret cafe style events. She researched spaghetti recipes and found some sites with information on planning pasta for big groups. We wanted a vegetarian and a meat option. We also wanted something distinctive that people would really enjoy. She pointed me at a pasta puttanesca option which involves tomatoes, kalamata olives, and capers. I adapted it into a more traditional spaghetti sauce, to stretch it out, with the addition of Walla Walla onions and tomato sauce. For the meat sauce we simply added a bit of jarred sauce and a bunch of ground pork, Italian sausage, and ground beef to the vegetarian sauce. Iced tea and lemonade could be created in posh variations for very little money. I decided watermelon, bananas, peanut butter sandwiches, water, and some brownies would be adequate for pre-ride fueling and the rest stop.

My future wife created a stylish menu for the spaghetti feed.

My future wife created a stylish menu for the spaghetti feed.

I was worried about getting just the right amount of food. During our research we learned that a pound of spaghetti would feed about four hungry people. I guessed that a single recipe of sauce for a family size serving would go with that and built a shopping list for enough food to feed thirty riders. Experience has taught me that buying for a best case scenario wastes food and money. We bought food for a realistic estimate and made backup plans to go to a supermarket near the start-finish if we got more riders. We got our hands on a variety of day old baguettes for free with a little hustling, knowing we could make good garlic bread out of them if we toasted it. Between Cash-and-Carry, Grocery Outlet, and Costco we were able to get the rest of the stuff we needed for drinks, salad, and garlic bread just barely within our budget.

Sauce is always better if you make it the night before. We wanted day-of service to be simple so we made the garlic bread ahead of time and froze it. I had a bunch of water bottles somebody had given me, so I brought them to pre-fill and give away, so I could get rid of them. I also grabbed a big insulated water container and made some ice packs to keep it chilled.

With food in order, we needed to take on other requirements. I put together a tool box, grabbed a pump, and an assortment of tubes so we could do tech support. I also grabbed a firstaid kit and made sure it was stocked with all the stuff you would need for roadrash, bee stings, and other likely occurences. I also grabbed sunscreen to make available if people wanted it. Finally, I made sure we had enough tables and chairs to handle registration and the rest stop.

Internet promotion doesn’t always provide a lot of feedback. The people that did contact me by email ahead of the ride were almost all apologizing that they would be out of town. The Facebook event only had about fifteen people signed up and my experience has been that you can only count on about half of the people who say they are attending or may attend. I’d leaned on all of my volunteers to twist arms to get people to come, but they were giving me mixed feedback. This was nervewracking. I’d told my partner we could get a reasonable turnout and I knew she was really hoping we would make enough from the event to cover the food budget for the big day. I was pretty sure that we would break even, but I didn’t feel like I could count on a good turnout.

Whenever I’ve run or been involved with big rides there have always been people who are very adamant about being able to start early. They may have other things they need to do or just want to be comfortable they have a lot of leeway to finish their distance. I liked the idea of having set start times so people could set out as a group because this would increase the social element. Ultimately, I decided that accomodating people’s schedules to maximize attendance was more important. I knew that some riders would be leaving at eleven for the thirty, so I put out that info on the website and in my targeted email, so there would be an option for those who wanted a group to ride with at that distance, but couldn’t find anyone to lead a group for the eighty. I figured eight-in-the-morning was the latest we could start registration with out aggravating the earlybirds. I was able to figure out when to start serving food based on that and expected average speeds and propose some suggested start windows. We put together a timeline on Excel with some these start times, plus info on when the rest stop would be available, when food service would take place, and so on and put it out on the web site and on a printed sheet at the start.

A timeline allowed riders and volunteers to have a clear idea what was happening when.

A timeline allowed riders and volunteers to have a clear idea what was happening when.

We set off a little before seven with all the gear and supplies, plus my future stepdaughter, her boyfriend, and a buddy of theirs (our rest stop crew) crammed into my Ford Explorer. Everything was set up by eight and our first riders came in shortly after, followed by a few more. By the time I set out to drop the rest stop people off on the course we’d had six or eight people come through. I knew there was a decent size crew coming at eleven to do the thirty, so I was finally able to relax knowing that we would have reasonable turnout.

We had people fill out tickets at registration, so I knew who was on the road, so we could do a raffle for some homemade pasta courtesy of my future wife, and so I could send out thank yous to participants. I had four people at the start-finish counting myself. This was perfect for getting setup done, food out, registration handled, and allowing a free hand to do some on call sag and course sweeping. I estimated when the last rider would be through the rest stop and swept the course at that time, picking up the rest stop crew on the way. There were no mishaps and all the riders were making good progress.

My fiancee Maylee ready to serve up some food.

My fiancee Maylee ready to serve up some food.

When I got back spaghetti was being served and everyone seemed to be having a good time. The feedback on the loops, the food, the venue, and the level of support were all good. People socialized and we volunteers were able to relax and join in for a while until the riders all trickled out to head home. Clean up was a snap and we were on the road home an hour earlier than I had expected- exhausted but happy that we had put on an event with a turnout of a little over thirty riders that had achieved our financial goals. Everyone was stoked with the event and I think I will bring it back as a club volunteer appreciation ride in the future.

My Partner Maylee Dishing out the Salad

My Partner Maylee Dishing out the Salad

There are a few takeaways I can pass on based on our experience. First of all, you can do this. It’s not difficult to put on a fully catered and supported ride for 30+ people for under $300 with ten or less volunteers. There are a few tricks. Food portions need to be carefully planned for your expected number of riders. I got 30 at our ride. If I had bought food for a more optimistic 50, I would have spent another $100 and the food would have gone to waste. It would have eaten up a quarter of our net. Plan carefully and make check lists. We didn’t forget anything essential, but that’s because I’d done my due diligence ahead of time. There are a number of ways to promote your ride. I recommend all the methods I used, plus anything else you can think of. That said, expect direct email to be the most effective. I plan monthly social events for the Capital Bicycling Club and that reliably works better than anything else. If you want to promote well-attended events for your club, start collecting email addresses now. Finally, don’t plan this sort of event if your goal is personal financial gain. You depend on volunteers to make things work and you’ll be hard pressed to recruit them without some sort of emotional draw for them to support and you certainly can’t afford to pay them. It only worked financially for us because a key volunteer donated a bunch of gas for course marking and my because partner and I both had more time than money and no immediate way to capitalize on that time other than by doing something like our ride. On the other hand, it was a lot of fun. If you want to have a good time and start building up your cycling community get out and start planning!

Feel free to contact me if you have any questions about putting on your own ride.


Old Truck on the Side of the Course in Galvin

Posted in Cycle Sportive Lifestyle | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

The Right Tool for the Job: Are We Riding the Most Appropriate Road Bicycles?

I spent this weekend doing tech support for the Seattle-To-Portland double century at the halfway point in Centralia. For those of you not familiar with STP, it is one of the largest organized bike rides in the United States with around 10,000 participants each year. As you can imagine, I saw a lot of bikes over the weekend. One of most striking impressions that I came away with is that there are a lot of people in the Northwest riding very expensive bicycles, and that the vast majority of these very expensive bicycles really aren’t very appropriate for how they are being used. I’m not talking about the absurd guy riding the full-on tri bike with the aero helmet. I’m talking about how virtually everyone would be better served with a different kind of bike. What do I mean by better served? Simply that the rider would be in Portland sooner and feel better when they got there on a better suited bicycle. A thoughtful reader might ask themselves how that could be possible, assuming that the expensive bicycles I watched roll by represent a cross section of the best in modern race bikes (a correct assumption). The problem is that a modern race bike is not the best tool for the average rider to use to ride 200 miles on pocked Northwest roads.

Think about what a race bike is designed to do, namely take a twenty-five year old (plus or minus) athlete at an average speed of twenty-five miles an hour (or faster) for a period of four to five hours on generally good roads. See a few problems? Factor in age and ability, speed, duration, road surface quality, and a few other truths, such as the fact that the racer is supported by a following team car, so he has no need to carry anything, and the problem becomes clear. Add the extremes in stiffness, lack of clearance for larger section tires, and fragility of modern race bikes and the problem is compounded.

It wasn’t always so. In the seventies a race bike often had clearance for larger tires and often it had fender eyes because the racer was expected to train on his race bike in the European winter, so he needed fenders. The frame was build out of ultra-durable and forgiving steel tubing. Some of us were closer to being twenty-five year old athletes capable of riding STP at race pace then, but even that is fading into the past.

How would we change the bicycle to make it more appropriate for a sportive event like STP? The changes would be many and varied. Some would be major and some subtle. At this point it would be easy to spin off into a tirade asking the question, “Why, since the enthusiast/sportive rider is the market segment that is redoubtably the largest in terms of cycling participation and purchasing of high-end bicycles, isn’t there a bicycle designed specifically for the cycle sportive type of rider?” The answer is that there is and always has been, but that this product has come from small manufacturers, often demanding a premium price and a discerning customer. While the bicycling public at large is forced to make due with the recycled or re-purposed racing bike that the large manufacturers target at them.

Jan Heine has done a good job of proving that a high quality large section tire can offer as good or better minimization of rolling resistance as all but the very fastest 700×23 tires. This information has been difficult for the average rider to benefit from or even evaluate because their bicycle’s short reach brakes and tight clearances won’t accommodate larger section tires. This ability and the ability of the bicycle to accept high quality full fenders are what most differentiates a sportive bike from a race bike. The added benefit of the wider tires ability to absorb more road shock, making the bicycle more comfortable to ride for long durations, and on poor road surfaces is just icing on the cake.

As a rider from the Pacific Northwest, defending the ability of a bicycle to accept fenders seems ridiculous. The roads here are wet nine months out of the year. Even if you don’t care about getting wet and dirty, grit and water destroy bicycles and bicycle parts. My own fenders sport mud flaps, which almost touch the ground, coupled with quality alloy (rolled edge) fenders. As a result, myself and the people I ride with can ride much more cleanly and comfortably in wet conditions.

Alan Woods's club bike displays good fender lines and clearance with a larger tire and a mudflap.

Alan Woods’s club bike displays good fender lines and clearance with a larger tire and a mudflap.

It doesn’t seem like much- room for larger tires and fenders, but just those two simple things require a redesign and rethinking of virtually every part of the bike. The fork needs to be taller and wider with more offset, the chain stays need to be longer and more widely spaced near the bracket shell as well. Bridge placement, once almost an afterthought, now needs to be precise to provide proper fender lines. If center pull brakes with brazed on posts are to be used the spacing of the pivots must be considered along with vertical placement of the bridge. Detail follows niggling detail. Perhaps there are other reasons our major manufacturers have chosen to sell us re-purposed race bikes, but the added complication must figure largely.

An example of correct bridge placement with a center pull brake and fenders on the same bicycle.

An example of correct bridge placement with a center pull brake and fenders on the same bicycle.

As an afterthought I should add that I do like to go fast on a bicycle, I always have, and hope I always will, and that I take off my fenders at the earliest possible opportunity. In addition, I often ride 700×23 tires, but I don’t think having a bike that will accept larger tires and fenders detracts from it in any way.

Entry provided by W.D. Stevenson

All photos courtesy of Alan Woods

Posted in General, Road Bicycles | Tagged , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

What is Cycle Sportive All About?

Many of the people in my life are enthusiast cyclists. Some of them may race, or have raced, but they don’t think of themselves as racers. Some of them ride brevets, permanents, and fleches from time to time, but they don’t think of themselves primarily as randonneurs. They ride their bikes to work, but they wouldn’t say that they are just commuters. They may do multi-day bike trips, but they don’t think of themselves as tourists. They ride for fitness. They ride for comradery. They want to ride fast, but they also want to have a good time on the road with friends. Cycling is an important part of their lifestyle and identity. They often structure their year around organized cycling events such as centuries or double-centuries.

We have a lot of names for this sort of cyclist such as sport cyclist, club rider, or enthusiast. They make up the majority of people riding quality road bikes, but we don’t really have a good tag to put on them. One term we can borrow from cycling tradition is cycle sportive or cyclosportif. A cycle sportive is an organized cycling event somewhere between a mass start road race and an ultra-distance randonee or Audax. The organization is very similar to the century rides that are more common in the U.S., but riders typically wear numbers and time is kept. This style of event is getting more popular in the States, but the Italian term Gran Fondo is typically applied. Riders that participate in such events are sometimes called cycle sportives or cyclosportif. The term has a nice ring to it and seems to embody the characteristics of the specific type of enthusiast rider I’m attempting to describe.

Why do we need a label? This is a valid question. I think that there are two very sound reasons. The first is that by identifying a particular sort of rider we can proceed with intentionality to create or alter rides, organizations, and equipment to best support that type of rider. There has been club culture at different times, in Britain and Europe in particular, that has done a good job of supporting this kind of riding. Encouraging a vibrant subculture that spawns great rides and strong, skillful, and safe riders with good habits on the road is something valuable that we should consciously pursue.

The second reason is that there is a particular sort of bicycle well-suited to the cycle sportive style of riding. It has been called a sportif or a clubman bike, but as often as not it hasn’t been assigned a category or has been called something else. The vast majority of these bikes have been built by custom or limited production builders out of whatever the cutting-edge steel tube set of the day was. It has braze-ons so you can mount fenders if needed and it might see a handlebar bag or a seat bag from time to time. It differs from the more specialized racing bike or randonneuring bike in important ways. It’s a bike that you might ride to work, ride on a scorching fast club ride, take the mud guards off and race, use comfortably for a double-century, or even do some light touring on. Equipment may have modernized over time, but the basic type remains the best tool for cycle sportive style riding (for more information on the technical characteristics of this type of bike see the following guest entry by Bill Stevenson).

This blog will explore cycle sportive style riding and lifestyle and the bikes that are best suited to go with them. It will look at their history. There will be interviews with frame builders, cycling history experts, and other people that are keeping the flame alive today. We will look at what makes a good cycle sportive bicycle in depth. You may see product and book reviews or even write ups of test rides of complete bikes. Hopefully, we’ll have plenty of guest entries. Long time cycle sportive frame builder Bill Stevenson is committed to being a regular contributor and we are talking to others.

Welcome to Cycle Sportive!

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