Manufacturers to Riders: Go Sponsor Yourself

As humans, we all possess the innate ability to delude ourselves. This self-delusion is necessary to get through life, for the reality of our universal insignificance untempered by the illusion of importance would cause most of us to realize that effort of any sort in the face of our frivolity is completely absurd. What really is the point of, say, going to work, or cleaning the bathroom, or fastidiously grooming one's pubic hair, when eventually we will all meet the same end and be consigned to the grave like so much mulch? Indeed, without self-delusion we'd all be like Bartleby in that Melville story, saying "I prefer not to" when presented with any task. For this reason, self-delusion is as involuntary as any bodily function regulated by the medulla oblongata, since the very future of our species depends on it.

Of course, life isn't all self-delusion; there's also recreation, and doing stuff for the sheer delight and pleasure of it. Pushing our body's happy buttons with a cool swim on a hot day, or a fermented drink containing ethanol, or even just some good old-fashioned genital manipulation can elicit the sort of enjoyment that transcends angst and that does not need to be reconciled against the overbearing reality of our inconsequence. It is at these moments when we inhabit the intoxicating twilight between delusion and insignificance, and dwell fleetingly in joy. Riding a bicycle too can be one of these sources of "no strings attached" delight.

But what if you don't enjoy "joy," and you insist on applying the yardstick of self-delusion against even the simple act of recreation? Well, for these people, there is amateur road racing, a world in which even a Cat 4 cannot be coaxed onto a bicycle unless the effort it takes to propel that bicycle is measured with an electronic device so it can be downloaded later and compared to the effort expended on previous rides. This sort of behavior--the quantifying of our own fruitlessness--would appear to be the very pinnacle of self-delusion. It's like keeping a masturbation journal in which you document the duration of your "sessions" and the volume of your "issue."

So if some of us find our own fruitless behavior so compelling, then naturally the behavior of professional cyclists would seem almost sacred, and I pondered all of this while perusing the latest issue of Rouleur while sitting on the toilet:

I thrill to professional cycling as much as any fan, but I realize when I read Rouleur that I do not take it nearly seriously enough. This lavish periodical doesn't simply report or comment on the sport; instead, it fawns over it, slavers on it, and fondles it like it's Humbert Humbert and professional cycling is Lolita. In Rouleur, the simple washing of a race bike becomes akin to Mary Magdalene washing Jesus's feet. This is not to say Rouleur is a bad publication; far from it. Many people share this view of professional cycling and Rouleur articulates it like no other. If you thrive on the history, imagery, and lore of the sport you will certainy enjoy it. However, I can't even take the Bible seriously, much less bike racing, so when I read Rouleur I generally feel like a child sitting in a religious service and trying not to laugh.

Also fascinating to me are the advertisements in this and other cycling publications, and the way in which the simple tools the professionals use to ply their trade is like unto gold, frankincence, and myrhh ("myrrh" was an early form of crabon fribé) for the self-deluded. Yes, you too can own an "Asymmetrical Dogma" (only $17,900 with Di2), just like the one Bradley Wiggins hardly cares he's riding. (Incidentally, "Asymmetrical Dogma" is also a pretty good summary of the Bible.) The difference, of course, is that the pros get it for free in addition to their salary, but if you want it you have to "Sponsor Yourself:"

("Sponsoring Yourself" is Foffing Off 2.0.)

This ad in particular caught my eye, not only because Assos clothes are apparently designated by "clima range" and require use of specific "body insulators," but also because the model's left foot hangs mysteriously next to his pedal:

This seems an odd detail for Assos to have overlooked. I suppose he could be in the process of clipping in, but judging from the model's expression and position on the bike it looks like he's supposed to evoke that moment in the local group ride that everyone drives to in BMWs just after the roll-out and just before the first town line sprint. The conversations about home improvements have ended and the leadouts have begun, so he certainly would have been securely clipped in for some time now. My best guess is that he was simply standing on a little prop, which was subsequently erased by somebody who does not understand how a pedal works.

Of course, if you really want to be like the pros, you should buy a Madone from the Great Trek Bicycle Making Company. Until now, their proprietary broken steer tube technology was only available to top riders like George Hincapie:

Now, however, you too can apparently experience the thrill of mid-race handlebar detachment with the new Madone:

Strangely though, instead of touting this as a feature, the Great Trek Bicycle Making Company is "going all Mavic" and blaming the consumer:

Trek says over-tightening stem bolts, incorrectly placing spacers above and below the stem, and using incompatible stems can all cause point loading (uneven clamping force) on the steerer tube, weakening it and causing it to break.

“As the technology going into today’s bicycles has increased, so has the responsibility of the mechanic and rider to follow the manufacturer’s installation instructions exactly,” reads Trek’s statement. “This issue is not unique to Trek, but is specific to carbon steerers from every manufacturer.”

Bryan Vaughan’s FSA Plasma stem after his steerer tube broke.

According to Trek, there are three keys to safe and successful installation of a stem on a carbon steerer:

1) Always use a torque wrench, and never over-tighten stem clamp bolts.
2) Always use spacers above and below the stem. Although less obvious than correct torque, a minimum of 5mm and a maximum of 40mm spacers under the steerer, plus a 5mm spacer above the stem are required. Riders should factor in these spacers when sizing their bike.
3) Use only the stem brand and model that came with the bike, because not all stems will work with carbon steerers. Often the lighter the stem, the less chance it will be compatible with a carbon steerer. Weight-relieving cutouts on the stem clamp and steerer interface can create stress risers.

Vaughan’s FSA stem was incompatible with the steerer, Trek said.

The part about the stem is particularly audacious, and I wonder if there is a comprehensive list of stems that are incompatible with Trek steerers, or if Trek simply waits for failures asks what kind of stem was involved, and then says, "That one." Cunningly, they've also added the torque-and-spacer qualifiers, so even if the failure occurs with a stock stem they can point to faulty installation. Most interestingly, “As the technology going into today’s bicycles has increased, so has the responsibility of the mechanic and rider to follow the manufacturer’s installation instructions exactly,” which means that in 10 years we should finally see the advent of the completely unrideable, proprietary, and non-serviceable road bike.

Fortunately, not all bicycle engineering comes at the expense of durability. Consider this "tiger bike," spotted by a reader in Portland:

Complete with integrated tail/wheelbrow, the "tiger bike" makes a compelling argument for emulating not professional cyclists but, rather, the beauty of nature. Also, it goes great with this:

Tiger shirts are ideal when even Primal jerseys are too subtle.

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