Thursday, June 26, 2008

Frame Builders

There is a connection between us and them, more than us merely taking their craft and utilizing it as a precision tool to conduct our business of riding. It is more like a relationship, one of cultivating understanding, learning the little details of each other in order to create something greater then sum of the consumer and the artisan.

Builders aren’t a white-collar marketing guy coming up with target audiences and market segments, nor are they some 30-something hipster-duface with a goatie and a mouth full of insider slang, trying to make you feel less of a rider than he. They are the working class, honest day’s work for sometimes less that an honest day’s wage. They have tiny slivers of jagged-edged metal burs buried in their fingers, a yet are always smiling, and have great stories to tell.

Frame builders are great about reading between the lines, and peeling the onion to get down to what really matters to you in a frame. It is part science, part art and a dash of experience that turns out great rides. The beauty is in the details, and the great ones have the patience to massage the best out the materials they use.

Sometimes burning the midnight oil, they go the extra mile for their customers, and the biggest reward for them is seeing the end product under the joyous control of their new owner. Most good frame builders have a following, sometimes even clubs. They are celebrated in inner-circles like a messiah or rock star. But most shun the attention, and remain humble, eager to pass on lessons learned and to share their passion for the bicycle.

Do you know who built your frame?

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Riding the Alps

The Zugspitze as a backdrop
Sandi on her way to the Steig
Somewhere up there is the summit
Fresh cut single trail
Old farm building in town
Morning traffic in Ehrwald
It would seem to me that some of the world's best engineers would have figured out the need for switchbacks, or atleast how they make the vertically challenging life of riding/ climbing up mountains an easier proposition. I pondered this thought over many hard fought vertical meters during my extended weekend of riding in the Zugspitz Area surrounding Ehrwald, Leermoos and Bibierwier, Austria. Granted, the Germans are most know for their engineering feats, but hey, Porsche was started in Austria.

The Ehrwalderhof served as our launching point for our four days there. Designated as a 'Mountain Biker' hotel, they had a work stand station, bike wash, sauna & spa, but most importantly a good espresso machine. Day one was spent poking around and getting acclimated, which included riding up a road that I am guessing was somewhere around a 20% grade straight up the mountain to descend in the rain one of the more technical singletracks I have ridden. Berni's, our host,eyes noticibly widened when we told him of our climb, and were followed by headshaking in disbelief of our descent, saying only crazy locals ride those trails.

We must have earned his respect, because the next day he sent us to check out some sweet recently built singletrack off the mid-station on Leermoos. He didn't tell us that between us and riding paradise was a 450 m climb in 30min, you do the math... For giggles, we rode to the top of the mountain first to check things out, that was an additional 375 m, all together taking us 55 min. The new trail was designed for both trail riders, and downhillers, featuring some big obstacles and super steep lines. It had stopped raining but things were very slick and tricky. I had perma-grin, but my brother in law was not so amused...

The next day after climbing 1200m with Colin on my back during a hike in the morning, I took Sandi up to the top of Leermoos in the afternoon, she wanted to make sure we made it up under Jochen's time, so there was no rest for the weary. The singletrack had substancially dried out and this time my riding partner was having as much fun as I.

On the last day, Jochen picked out our tour around the Wanning. The tour book said 4 1/2 hours, we figured on 3 hrs, and we would have made it in that time if it were not for Jochen's poor sense of direction... Still, we managed to make it around, and find the final climb after having missed the first 3/4 of the ride searching for the trails. Once again, I pondered the use of switchbacks as we rode up sections that exceed 30%! That climb alone we did over 900 vertical meters, out of our grand total for the tour of 1600 hm. Ouch. The backside dropped us back into the valley, and once again I discovered another sick singletrack, rock strewn, twisty and tunry, it ripped down the side of the mountain in a free-flowing ribbon. Sometimes it went right down the fall line, and even crossed a avalanche chute or two. I called it sweet, they call it a 'steig'.

Our four days in paradise quickly came to a close. I look forward to our next trip to the mountains and some more Alp style riding, now if I just can find that granny gear...

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Riding Girls Bikes

It is rare that you see that the female spouse in the relationship equation have a bike = to or > than the male. Granted there are exceptions, but this is about the rule. That being said, most of the guys I know have significant that are the least bit interested in the latest tech, neither give a crap about inertia weight nor fork valving, they just want the bike to work. These are the girls relegated to riding leftovers from sponsorships, last years bikes or even worse, the oh-so popular Stumpjumper.

Things work a little different around the Bloomer household, I can tell you that. Sandi might have her fingers on the pulse of the latest & greatest, but she knows a good bike when she sees one. Better yet, she has ridden, raced and tested a lot of bikes, and knows what she likes. On my side, it works like this, if I want a new ride in the quiver, I have to tend to the queen bee first.

Last week I took her single speed out for a few spins, a sweet baby blue & pearl white steel Deluxe, I was jealous. Riding this bike put a huge smile on my face, handling was crisp and precise, slicing up the singletrack with the skill of a Beverly Hills surgeon. And it was smooth as a well aged bourbon, gliding over variations in the trail while remaining calm, cool and civilized.

The components are enough to make any bike-geek salivate with lust, matching pewter KING headset and hubs set the frame off framing the beautiful masterpiece of a paintjob courtesy of Sommerville, Mass. Silver Thomson Masterpiece post and X4 stem, along with the White Industries polished cranks dangle of the bike like elegant jewelry, The oh so comfortable, yet high performance Aliante Carbon saddle looks like it came from the Ferrari factory between the carbon and leather. Notice the ProtoTyres from Hutchinson, super soft tacky rubber that are a blast to push to the outlimits on any trail. The FOX F80X is all business up front, offering second to none suspension. The Magura Marta SL’s still set a high benchmark for braking performance and mesh into the overall bikes theme.

This bike is overall a bit short for me, but is still a blast to ride. It is one of the best handling bikes I have ridden, thanks to the perfect blend of steel selected by IF. It’s function is flawless, and will surely be in Sandi’s quiver for some time.

Before you run out to appease you better-half, take an example from this ride, and get her a bike YOU would want to ride. Who knows, you just might get lucky…