Track Cycling


My Most-Missed Event

It might come as a surprise to some that Dirty Kanza (recently renamed Unbound) is not the race I miss most. No, the race that I was most disappointed to miss in 2020 was the Rift gravel race in Iceland. I’ve had the great opportunity of riding in Iceland on a few occasions, and the people, country and stunning scenery are unmatched. Sure, the weather is a bit volatile and extreme, but I’ll take the cold and rain any day over the relentless Kansas heat.

Strava Censorship

I use Strava as my cycling social media, and it’s been great. Overall, I find it a great place to share my ride images and have a bit of fun with cycling-related topics. But, while on a small local group ride, I inadvertently found myself part of a surprising controversy. 

It was on the day after a group ride that I received a text message from a friend letting me know that I was mentioned in some sort of group message that was targeting one of the riders on the ride. It turns out the guy had titled the ride in a way that people not on the ride took offense to.

Soon thereafter, the person who posted the ride called me because not only had the ride been removed from the platform, but in addition to him receiving a rash of threatening messages, Strava had suspended his premium account. While I understood how in this day of heightened passions things could’ve spun out of control, but what bothered me most was that the only account suspended was his and not of those who had threatened and harassed him.

Also noteworthy was that the people who reported the ride to Strava as being hateful also included everyone else that was on the group ride. As I can attest, our ride was as diverse as it could be, and to blanket everyone on it was not just wrong but mind-boggling. The only thing we all had in common was that we love riding bikes.

Finding New Roads With New Tech

During a family road trip last summer I used the new and improved Strava mobile route builder to pick quick routes in cities where we stopped since the local group rides were all on hold. Let me tell you that I was happy that I had a gravel bike, because the vast majority of the rides I rode included at least 50-percent dirt—not gnarly, demanding dirt, but just regular roads and streets that are unpaved. When in West Virginia, I had maybe one of the best rides ever as I navigated through endless dirt roads and plenty of climbing. I had about six cars pass me in three hours. Lots of farm dogs chased me to keep the heart rate elevated, and plenty of front-porch waves and strange looks. Overall, it felt like a hidden treasure that even the locals didn’t realize, and I wouldn’t have found it without some wide tires and the new Strava-suggested routes.

Best All-Around Bike

Recently, I have found myself less attracted to aero bikes as they continue to push the limits of cutting through the air at the sacrifice of, well, everything else. So, when the 3T Exploro Racemax showed up, I was happy to let Zap have the first go. Like we do with all the test bikes, the 3T got swapped around until I finally got my opportunity to ride it with its massive 650b, 2.25 tires. 

Well, it turns out the bike was surprisingly good on the road. And, when I got it on the dirt, I was also impressed with just how well it did there, too. After the ride, I looked at the geometry chart to try and figure out the numbers, and it all came together. The bike has what seems to be near road race geometry but paired with room for the massive tires. Let’s just say it is a load of fun, and currently if I could only have one drop-bar bike, this might be it.

Best Gravel Drivetrain? 

We haven’t had much time on the new Campagnolo Ekar drivetrain, but some things you can just call early. The Ekar 1x drivetrain that is targeting the all-road and gravel market is definitely one to consider when building or buying a bike. On my first ride of the new drivetrain, I knew that this was a big deal. The quality of the parts matched with what seemed to be some serious level of thought going into them meant that the Italian drivetrain delivered more than they were marketing. The only real miss, if you ask me, is that they are under-utilizing the fact that the cassette has a 9t cog, and there is little reason to run a 40t or 42t chainring. Instead, there should be a chainring offering with less teeth.

My New Go-To Road Bike

While the 3T is a great balance of road and dirt, sometimes you just want a pure road bike. Click here to read about my new go-to road bike, the Specialized Aethos. The Specialized Tarmac SL7 was a personal disappointment, as it was too aero for me. And then the Aethos arrived. It was as if Specialized had actually been listening to me when I told them I liked performance geometry but didn’t have any interest in racing. Or, when I told them I didn’t care about saving 3 grams with a Press-Fit bottom bracket and would rather have a threaded shell. So, yes, the Aethos is sweet and, personally, I would get the Pro version.

The Good In 2020

Okay, of course, there is nothing to celebrate about the pandemic, but I’m not going to say that, because of the resulting influx of cash that has entered all the local bike shops isn’t a bad thing. For the first time in, well, a very long time people are rushing to their local bike shops. While a vast majority of the population looks to buy a bike, the shops are also stacked full of repairs as under-maintained bikes get a new chance at life. 

A days worth of sold bikes at one of our local shops.

My Must-Have Product

People always ask, “What is the one product you feel like you can’t go without?” When I reply that is Amp Human PR lotion, they are always shocked. Yup, a lotion is the one product that I find most beneficial while riding. Without getting too deep in the weeds of it, I use PR lotion on almost every ride. The more I use it, the less I feel like I need it, but when I don’t use it, there is a clear difference in the way I feel after. Maybe it is a placebo, but for me it works—and it works well. I cramp less, ride more consistently and just feel better after a hard ride when I use it. 

The Best (or Worst) Marketing Hype

There I was on a Zoom call with Cannondale discussing the new Topstone Lefty when someone on their product team boasted how the Topstone had 30mm of rear-end travel. I had to pause the conversation: “How much
did you say? And how do you define travel?”  

A close-up of the Kingpin.

Turns out their claim was based on the total movement between the saddle and rear axle. Let me be clear that this is not how I would define travel. Also, to assume that sticking a rod through a seat tube and surrounding it with bearings to create a pivot is pure marketing hash. From all my testing, the only thing those bearings are going to do is lead to failure since they don’t rotate at all. So no, the Kingpin, in my opinion, is fake news. Does the rear end of the Topstone have compliance? Yes, but the majority of it is in the seatpost and then some in the seat stays, but not the Kingpin pivot as their marketing might suggest. However, when it comes to the new Lefty Oliver fork, that thing
is sweet. 

Long-Term Test-Proven

I think we can all confidently say that SRAM had a few tough years in the road market. Between battling an early disc-brake recall and Shimano’s legacy of domination, few stock road bikes were being spec’d with their drivetrains. Then the SRAM eTap AXS group launched and changed everything. In short, it redefined gearing, solidified wireless shifting and put SRAM solidly back in the road game. No matter if you chose the Red or Force version, both offer near-identical performance at different price points. I can’t say I prefer it more or less than the Shimano, but I’m just happy that as consumers we now have a healthy level of competition in the component game.

SRAM Force ETap AXS Wide on one of our many test rides.

The Year’s Biggest Step Backwards

While Specialized did produce my new favorite frameset in 2020, they also provided what I think is the biggest detriment to the evolution of road cycling in a while. They launched a new line of wheels that they claim are not tubeless-ready, even though they were designed to be tubeless and met all the requirements. Yes, the same people that pushed road tubeless when there were very few tire options on the market have designed a wheel to be tubeless, but have since backtracked on using it the way it was originally intended. 

Although most of the details were covered in the last issue (RBA, January 2021), the whole fiasco still doesn’t sit well. After many conversations across the industry, it is clear that Specialized’s in-house wheel brand Roval came to the realization that road riders were not properly adopting the lower tire-pressure science that comes with modern tubeless tire sizes and air volume as they had hoped. They also realized that while people still want to try tubeless, by not using the correct air pressure, it could lead to many failures. Well, it turns out that as dangerous as overinflated tires can be, it’s even more problematic when it comes to tubeless. So, instead of educating the consumer, they instead just re-marketed the wheels as incompatible.

I get that it all comes down to concern for safety, profit and warranty issues, but to have such little faith in the consumer and define an entire segment of the market as too stubborn to educate seems a bit small-minded. And, as a consumer myself, insulting.

And So, My Best Tubeless Tips

So here it is: if you are overinflated and/or if your rim tape is not installed correctly, the air in the tire can rush into the rim, causing the rim wall to crack. This is not unique to any one brand, but it seems Specialized recognized it and was unwilling to add reinforcements (weight) to reduce the chances of this failure.

This happens because the thin carbon profile of most wheels is oriented in a way to support the weight of a rider and not made to hold pressure. Have I seen this happen? Yes, and in all the cases it was 100 percent the improperly installed rim tape that led to the failure. Also, in all the cases it happened during the first ride after setup and led to a wheel that was unridable. So yes, it could be a very big problem, but that is industry-wide, not
just Roval. 

I am always baffled at how little acceptance the road market has with new technology. Every other sport that has pneumatic tires has realized and maximized the importance of tire pressure. We have come a long way with a lot of things in the cycling world, but it’s time to forget the notions that high tire pressure offers more speed. Correct tire pressure delivers performance and safety gains on a whole new level, and the biggest factors are air volume and temperature change with less emphasis on rider weight.

My Welcome To The Short-Saddle Club

One of the most trending accessories has been short saddles, but for me I couldn’t find one that really worked. That was until the Selle Italia Flight Boost Kit Carbono Superflow showed up. While the naming is a bit ridiculous, the saddle is something near perfection for me. The profile closely resembles my normal go-to saddle, only with a cropped nose. So, while I always felt left out of the short-saddle circle, I can now say I found one that might be better than anything I’ve used in the past.