I started this blog in 2008 as a repository for my bicycle-related essays. I began working in the bike biz later that year and the blog has since shifted to be my soapbox for anything bike. I mostly seek to explain technical concepts and impart whatever general knowledge of cycling I have to my readers, focusing on industry info, riding tips, how-to's, maintenance and repair, some stories.
Most E-bikes run on one or more lithium ion batteries (Li-ion). They're typically found attached to a rear rack, the down tube, or the seat tube of the frame, and they can explode if not treated well.
This article is about how Li-ion batteries work, how they should be treated, and why they sometimes explode – and if there's a better option for e-bikes. I don't cover everything there is to know about e-bike batteries here because, well, I don't have the energy. You can find a more in-depth guide at https://batteryuniversity.com/
Here's the basic anatomy of a Li-ion battery: You got a positively charged cathode on one side, a negatively charged anode on the other side, and a separator in the middle. Lithium ions flow between the cathode and anode through a liquid electrolyte mixture. This isn't a method of storing energy, in an exact sense, but a way to convert chemical energy into electrical energy. Li-ion batteries do this better than any other battery type (except lithium polymer) because lithium has the greatest energy density per weight of any other metal.
Now take a good look at that little separator in the picture above. It's there because if the anode and cathode interact without it, there will be a runaway heating effect that will eventually lead to a meltdown – and lithium melts at around 1000 degrees, so that's bad. The anode and cathode can exchange lithium ions through the separator, but never shall they meet. Or else...
The most common cause of Li-ion battery explosions is a failure of the separator, which is usually made of polyethylene or some other slightly porous material. Polyethylene is good because if the battery starts to overheat, the pores will melt a little and automatically seal the cathode and anode off from each other. However, the separator is thin – really thin. On some batteries the separator will be thinner than a pixel on this web page – much thinner.
When the battery gets hot it expands, forcing the battery to physically bulge. A high-end battery will be wrapped in durable polymers that stretch and resist heat and breaking, but if that polymer coating is somehow ruptured, and the hot lithium gasses are exposed to oxygen, KABOOM!
Abuse and manufacturer errors can both cause a separator failure. It is recommended that if you crash your e-bike, DON'T TRY TO CHARGE THE BATTERY! If you see any damage or deformation at all on the outside of the battery case, get a new one. Charging a damaged battery encourages interactions between the cathode and anode, and if the separator is damaged – well, you get it.
Another popular method of blowing up a Li-ion battery is over-charging. Lithium batteries, unlike some other battery types, will happily just keep charging until they're so packed with energy that they just can't help but release it to the world. "Venting by fire" is the technical term.
Therefore, you need a microprocessor to administer a "trickle charge" and monitor the battery during the last 1% of the charge process. Most e-bike batteries will have that processor in the battery casing itself, but a cheaper battery, or a hobby battery will require a special charger with a built-in temperature gauge and shut-off capability. Even still, it's not fool-proof. I charge my lithium batteries in a fire-proof bag.
This also means that you can charge a battery really, really fast up until 99% full. The charging rate (or discharge rate) is determined by multiplying the C-rating posted on the side of the battery by its posted Ampere hours rating. So if a battery has an Ampere rating of 2 per hour, and the C-rating is 10, then you can charge or discharge the battery at a constant rate of 20 amps. Of course, this is assuming you can trust the numbers written on the side of your battery, which isn't always the case.
But is the Li-ion battery the best possible option for an e-bike?
Yeah, probably. A lithium polymer (Li-po) battery can store more energy, but they're also more volatile.
The other option is to forget batteries and go with a fuel cell. Fuel cells can be made safer, cleaner, and they can (hypothetically) release more energy per weight. The problem is that fuel cell science and manufacturing isn't as sophisticated as their battery equivalents, so we might be a few years away from fuel cell dominance – but I believe it will come.
H-CELL 2.0 hydrogen fuel cell power kit for hobby-grade RC racing........ - YouTube
Oh one last thing:
Never ever allow a lithium battery to fully discharge. I would even urge you never to let it fall below 5%. This is because once a lithium battery is fully depleted, it doesn't revive – unlike other battery types, like Ni-Cad batteries. Lithium batteries also have no "memory" so you can charge them up to 100% at any time without risking damage.
They do die on their own after a few thousand charge/discharge cycles. Right now there is no good, commonly accessible recycling method for lithium batteries – which is bad. To that end, we shouldn't fool ourselves into thinking we're being environmentally friendly by using batteries instead of fossil fuels. Either way we're making a mess for somebody else to clean up down the road.
For a few years I worked for a company that owned a stake in a clothing factory in China that specialized in athletic gear.
They weren't the best manufacturer, they made a good product and the stitching and quality assurance was always excellent, but the base materials were... mediocre. (please note, none of this was the factory's fault, nor my employer's, for reasons I'll get into.)
To explain, let's look at Gore-Tex.
Gore-Tex is a patented fabric design that companies can license to make their products more water resistant, but also breathable. Gore-Tex is good stuff, and it's expensive.
The company I worked for could not afford a Gore-Tex license, but they had to sell in a market with Gore-Tex-enhanced clothing from other brands.
So what did they do to compete? Well, mark down the retail price of their product to try and capture the low-end market with their inferior construction. . . . Psyche! No! They raised the price. Some of their offerings became more expensive than their Gore-Tex competitors.
That's right. They knew they had an inferior product, but they also knew the average person doesn't know nothing about no Goreg-Plex.
But people understand pricing. Or at least they think they do. People have been conditioned to believe that higher price equals higher quality.
In many instances this is true, especially in items that can be easily compared. A BMW X7 is better than a Ford Explorer: it has more power, more seating arrangements, better trim – and a non-expert can see this things right away, thus justifying (to some people) the fact that the X7 price tag doubles the Explorer's.
But the bike industry is tricky. Since bikes and gear haven't fundamentally changed much in 150 years, it's hard to stand up and say, "My new design is better than yours."
Bikes are simple objects, and here's the joke we like to tell about upgrading bikes:
Here're your options,
You can have it light
You can have it cheap
You can have it tough
Pick any two.
There're always compromises. But how does a consumer gauge quality is such a squishy field?
This has stumped cycling marketers since the first bike got sold. There's weight – sure, a lighter bike is probably a better bike. Unless the bike rides like wet noodles. So there's stiffness testing, but where do you draw the line for too stiff and just right?
What this all comes down to, is in an industry where there are few quality identifiers and the public is unsure of what constitutes quality in the first place, one of the only ways for a company to stand out is to raise prices and hope the public goes along with the ruse.
And by the way, the public isn't innocent here. For years I made a living off upselling rich people while being totally honest that the more expensive item didn't offer a performance advantage. They didn't care, and neither did I, really. It's a form of conspicuous consumption that, on the surface, doesn't seem to hurt anybody.
Doesn't seem to. But may I remind everybody of the 2008 financial collapse – where housing prices grew like a bubble, and when that bubble burst it nearly destroyed the housing industry, as well as the world's economy.
What I'm saying is that the inflation we're currently seeing in bike prices isn't a necessarily signal of the market maturing, but could very well be a bubble in the making. . . . Anyway, as a long-term industry professional, I'm a little worried about the health of the business right now. The cycling industry is in a moment of transition away from ma-and-pa shops and towards e-tailing and niche sales. High-end prices are going up, but high-end quality hasn't changed much in the eleven+ years of my professional tenure (with a few notable exceptions).
So my promise to you, the reader, is that I'll continue to write my articles and reviews without bias. I will intentionally seek out premium items, try them out, and compare them with less-expensive alternatives. I don't make money off this blog, so if the thing sucks, I'll let you know.
And maybe together we can burst the bubble but keep chewing the gum. –Ok awkward metaphor. What I mean is that it's ok to love new cycling stuff, but we should love it for what it is, not what it costs.
I first raced a bicycle when I was eleven, and now I'm in my 30's. I've played the upgrade game, and under the auspice of "professional bicycle mechanic," I've been an NPC in the bicycle upgrade and entertainment industry. All that is to say that I know what upgrades matter, and which are hype. This is my quick, no-bullshit guide to improving bike performance without, you know, actually training.
This guide assumes you have a bike that fits and is appropriate for the type of riding you do. If you're trying to win triathlons and all you have is a children's mountain bike, deal with that situation first and then come back.
TLDR: Upgrade your body position. Then upgrade the points where your bike and body meet. Then upgrade where your bike and the road meet. And finally, upgrade the moving parts.
FIRST UPGRADE: A DECENT PERFORMANCE FIT.
The greatest performance upgrades concern aerodynamics, because if we assume your bike is in good working condition then the mechanical drag it forces you to endure is but a pittance compared to the massive energy loss provided by the wind.
As concerns bike position, Graeme Obree proved that making your body long and low is the way to break an hour record. You don't need to go to an expensive bike fitter to find your fastest body position (but it helps). Instead, find your cleat position, saddle height, and fore/aft spot (there are many, many internet guides to help), then work on lowering and lengthening your arms and torso until you find a position that you can hold for the entire length of an event. Keep in mind: in your experiments you might discover you're capable of getting into the most aerodynamic body position known to mankind, but if you can't hold that position for the duration of your event, then you aint got nothin.
SAVE MONEY: Figure out your bike's steerer tube and handlebar diameter, get a size run of stems that fit those numbers, then learn how to swap stems and adjust your headset on your own. This is what a bike fitter does, and you can do it too.
A decent bike trainer stand or a set of rollers can be hugely beneficial for figuring out fit stuff because it provides a controlled environment where you can focus on your body and bike.
SECOND UPGRADE: APPAREAL. The right clothing will improve your cycling performance by increasing comfort and reducing drag. Let's start from the top down.
Pretty much all helmets sold in the US pass the same safety tests, so beyond that you want to look at weight, ventilation, and aerodynamics. You might also consider different helmets for different events, since the most aerodynamic headwear tends to be heavy and provides low air flow.
Your head is basically a big dumb knob sticking way out and over the top of your body, so smoothening it down can make a huge difference, but those aero gains can be offset if you accidentally bake your brain. Something like the Giro Aerohead is a good compromise for triathletes, but I prefer the Lazer Aeroshell system because it's like having a normal helmet, a winter helmet, and an aero helmet all in one.
Jersey or Skinsuit:
Skinsuits are more aerodynamic than jersey/bib combos, but they're inconvenient for toilet breaks and it can be hard to find a perfect fit without going custom. I have a nice skinsuit that I can't wear anymore because I got fat. The zipper broke when I tried to zip it over my big belly. Sad.
Nonetheless, the bike's rider accounts for some 80% of drag, so making the body more slippery will lead to time savings.
Thank Cycling Weekly for this chart.
Seriously though, BIKE SHORTS: Going from no bike shorts to yes bike shorts is the biggest performance upgrade you can do. Going from crappy bike shorts to bibs is another quantum leap. IF YOU CAN ONLY SPLURGE ON ONE THING, MAKE SURE IT'S THIS.
As far as fit goes, you want them to be tight, but not so tight that they become see-through when you bend over, and not so tight that they squeeze your legs like a rubber band over a hot dog. the big thing is to avoid a fit that's so loose it flaps in the breeze. Oh, and don't wear underwear, except when trying the fit at the store. Def wear undies at the store.
Saddle: Oh, and splurge on the saddle too. Ok that sounds bad. What I mean is treat your saddle purchase seriously. Most quality bike shops will have some kind of fit program to help you make the best choice. Similarly, most saddles come with a sixty-day fit guarantee. If it doesn't feel right, don't be afraid to return it. Returns are built into the pricing. It might take years to find the perfect saddle, and you might never find one. But a good saddle will allow you to ride harder for longer, so it's worth the time investment. Also, wear bike shorts when trying saddles out.
Three tips for setting up your saddle:
Make sure it's level. If any saddle is uncomfortable while level, there's something wrong with it, or your fit is off.
Check saddle height and leg extension. Sometime people think their saddles are uncomfortable because they're way up in the air and rocking back and forth to push the pedals.
Double and triple check that it's straight, not cockeyed.
Gloves: A good pair of cycling gloves will pad the outside of the palm. Fit, again, is crucial, but tricky. Your hand will swell when you ride, so you want the fit to be loose when you try it on in the shop. But not too loose. Leather gloves should fit tight when knew because they break in.
Just make sure to keep the receipt. OK?
While we're at it, make sure you have a good handlebar grip. I use thick tape, but I know a lot of people who double-wrap their bars.
Shoes and Cleats: When I learned about clipping in it changed the game for me. All the sudden my feet were always in the right spot and wouldn't shake free over train tracks. I could put more power down without my foot flexing, and I could pull up on the cleat while sprinting.
Cycling shoes are fairly simple to fit. They aren't like running shoes, which need to fit like a second skin.
Easy guide to bike shoe fit: Does your heel feel cupped? Can you move your toes? Yes? Good. That's a fit. Bike shoes are little more than a stable platform to push against. I usually buy whatever brand looks coolest.
As for the difference between road and MTB pedals and cleats: road give a better power transfer but MTB are easier to get in and out of.
THIRD UPGRADE: TIRES.
I mean this, tires are the most important component on a bicycle. Quality tires provide more comfort and greater speed and better traction.
Tubular tires are generally considered the best because they can be run at low pressure and the sidewalls conform to bumps better than clincher tires. But the differences are marginal and usually not worth the annoying rituals a mechanic has to follow to put a tubular on or off the rim.
Finding the best tire for you is a personal journey akin to finding the right saddle. For midwestern road riding I prefer a 28mm ribbed tire like the Panaracer Pasela. On gravel I'm partial to the X'Plor line. Continental tires are also high on my list because they're a little bit tougher than the other performance brands. If I lived around the smooth blacktop of Arizona I'd probably have difference preferences.
Bicycle Quarterly's editor, Jan Heine, has written extensively on why wide tires are better than skinny tires. Read all about that here. Just remember, he's not exactly an engineer and his methods wouldn't pass a scientific review board.
FOURTH UPGRADE: THE REST OF THE BIKE
You've probably noticed by now that the actual bike hasn't been mentioned yet on this post. That's intentional. The speed and efficiency difference between a $12,000 hyperbike and a $1200 machine that came off the wall at the bike store is so small as to be hardly noticeable. This comes up again and again in independent testing. And still, comfort and aerodynamics provide the largest performance gains.
It's also important to remember that mechanical drag only accounts for a couple lost watts per kilometer. But mechanical upgrades tend to be the most expensive.
But if you've done everything else, here's a step-by-step order for upgrades that'll make the biggest difference. This assume your bike is tuned and in perfect working condition.
New Frame and fork. A top-tier frame should be in better alignment than lower quality frames. It'll also be lighter and more aero. There's a limit, though, and marginal gains are exponentially more expensive.
Cables and housing. Upgraded cables and housing require less maintenance than the stock crap, which translates to more time riding.
Electronic shifty things. Di2, E-tap, EPS; whatever, it all works great. Lower maintenance, better shift feel, better under pressure. Nothing but wins.
Bearings, chain, crank. If it spins, upgrade it something that spins smoother.
The printed size on a tire's label is rarely accurate, especially with Continental brand road tires, and double-especially if you stretch them over wide rims. As evidence I submit my new "28mm" Continental 4-Seasons tires, whose actual width measure out to be 31mm on my TK-540 hoops. Man, these dudes fill up like a latex zeppelin.
So, when I ride and hit bumps I can sometimes hear the tire rub on the underside of the fork crown and brake caliper. Also little rocks and sand get stuck up in there and cause a grinding feeling I can sense through the frame. No, no, no. None of that is good. Needs amending, pronto.
This is a guide on how to shave down your fork crown and road caliper to fit larger tires than the manufacturer intended. Obvi, there's a chance you can screw up your bike if you don't do this right. So, like, pay attention and don't blame me if something goes wrong. OK?
What Ya Need:
Basic tools to take off your fork, wheel, and brake caliper. Probably a Y-wrench. Maybe a Torx wrench if you use Campy, Zipp, or Specialized components.
Something to clamp the fork in. I used a normal bike work stand.
A set of "half-round bastard-cut files" and a "Swiss file". Yes, those are the correct, technical names. Round bastard-cut files would probably work too.
Touch-up paint. I guess, if you care about that kind of thing.
Before you start horking away with the files ("horking" is another colorful technical term for what you do with a file. Some people call it "hogging." Metalworker's language is fun) Make sure you've properly messed with the brake's centering adjustment bolt.
This little bolt can change the angle of the brake; screwing it all the way in (or out) can effectively widen the brakes and give you a little more room for big tires. Note: not all brands put the centering adjuster in the same spot. After you mess with it you'll need to re-adjust the brake pads and the securing bolt.
If that don't work, then do this:
Pull off the tire, yank the fork out the frame, and let loose the brake caliper: we're gonna start hogging. When you get everything taken apart, you'll see exactly where the tire rubs, because the components will be missing paint.
Yowzers! The good news is that the worn-away paint and scuffs provide a visual cue on where to focus the files.
Note: Aluminum tends to gunk up files, so have a stiff wire brush handy for cleaning.
The basic idea here is to hog a little off, check your work, then hog a little more. Filing away material weakens the component, and you can only go so far before altering the structural integrity.
After shaving the brake, work on the fork.
On this bike, the fork is steel, so the files get a bit more bite. I started with the biggest file, and worked my way down, using the Swiss file to smooth it all at the end.
Check your work after every few horks. You can see I put tape where I wanted to protect the finish.
When you're done hogging and horking, put it all back together, fill the tire to capacity, press down and see if it rubs.
OK, it doesn't look like much of an improvement. But I just wanted a couple millimeters to take the grindy feeling away. There's still more material on the fork and caliper, so if I want bigger tires I've got heft to grind off.
Now you might be thinking, "This is all well and good on a steel fork with an aluminum brake caliper, but I got carbon baby! Whaddo I do?"
Here's the thing, forks need a lot of columnar strength, which carbon fibers aren't great at providing. Thus, most "carbon" forks use a whole lot of resin, in terms of weight by volume, because resin provides support. Resin can be filed down, no problem. But once you start getting into the fibers and they start fraying... What I'm trying to say is that carbon is deceptive. On most forks the crotch is not a structural or weight-bearing area, and I've seen many (MANY!) old forks and frames with big old holes in the carbon from tires giving the tickle treatment over thousands of miles. Use your judgement; don't go nuts.
As for aluminum, titanium, magnesium, and the rest of the metals: GO NUTS! Just keep in mind different metals react differently against a file.
Oh yeah, at some point you should have applied some layers of touchup paint. Don't forget to do that.
This piece can be found on its original home: Miracle Monocle, from the University of Louisville.
I've posted a rough draft of this essay on here before, but this is the final version. Goes well with the Christmas season, I think.
A Canticle for Commerce
The manager of this Chicago neighborhood non-profit bike shop, the only paid acolyte in the temple – a longhaired, wiry man with permanent black dots all over his hands (unintentional tattoos from getting poked by the black grease on the tip of a frayed cable) – vets me. These types of shops exist for supervised learning and contemplation, but a devotee who proves their experience can use the tools unrestricted. We talk about this and that bike relic: Zero-stack headsets versus traditional cups, why BB30 adaptors never seem to work, the idiosyncrasies of Campagnolo’s proprietary crank remover, etcetera and so on, ad nauseam, amen. He notes the brand of bike I brought to work on, a Foundry. He says, “They make a good bike at Foundry.” Had I been born a more proselytizing sort, I might’ve corrected him that it was some anonymous proletariat in Taiwan who made a good bike, Foundryjust sold it. Instead I agree and after a little genuflection he’s satisfied I won’t get hurt or mess up the tools, then he leaves me on my own. I set up at a tool altar to my habitualized specifications and commence my liturgy.
At a work stand a few paces over, the manager talks with a novice, part of that shop’s ‘Overhaul Your Bike Class.’ Being practiced in my rituals, my hands guide themselves while the rest of my senses – in need of focus, lest idleness lure them to devilry – employ their talents at eavesdropping. He goes over the terminology of the techniques they’ll be doing: “Righty-tighty, lefty-loosey.” He covers the names of the bike components and gives little histories for each one: “…the first pneumatic tires were made by a doctor who specialized in catheter tubing… some bike frames are bonded together with melted sterling silver… in olden days people pedaled in reverse to shift gears…” The manager could teach a yearlong course on back-stories alone. The awe-worthy size of this temple he helped build and the quality of its name-brand tools proves that his station was not granted by accident.
“I don’t expect you to remember everything I’m saying, but my point is that there’s a lot to learn here. It’s complicated! People like me and that guy over there have spent a fat chunk of our lives on this.”
My ear twitches at the acknowledgement of my existence. In so many words my brother said that we are part of a cause, together, that our lives in the service of machines has not been a waste, that what we do has merit and contributes to the wealth of the world.
“What I really want you to get from this class is a good generalized skill set, sort of a holistic approach to bike mechanics.”
This is my language. The cult of machine is eternal! Two people who never met before share a philosophy obtained from the art and vocation of mechanical appreciation. The gods of grease and fasteners smile upon us!
“…because, what’s really important is that after I’ve taught you all I know you’ll be able to walk into any bike shop and say exactly what you want from them. You can be like, ‘I’m feeling play in my bottom bracket. It’s a Japanese square taper design with English threads,’ and they’ll go straight to the back room and pick out the exact thing you need. You get me? No wasting time with sales pitches, just cash in hand and you’re out of there. You’ll basically be the perfect consumer.”
Oh dear, what righteous goal is this? No no no.
As a youth, I spent years in a non-profit bike shop in Iowa, a place that, at the time, seemed to exist outside the capitalist structures of traditional business and economics. “Is this heaven?” Asks Kevin Costner in Field of Dreams, “No, it’s Iowa,” the state responds. The work assumed the branding of altruism and utopia in that it was unpaid, but rewarding: the hubs I learned to overhaul helped unlicensed drunk driving parolees get to work and the seat posts I greased moved up and up with the growing legs of the local kids, or would have if the vile brats weren’t so keen on ghost-riding them into the river. My desire to monetize this skill cast me from Eden. Why fix bikes for free when I can do it for fee? But I thought, in my pious naïveté, that after a decade serving the Moloch of Earnings I might be let back to non-profitism to retire, and focus on the enriching experience of connecting with machines, without the corrupting influence of consumerism.
Machines – such as cameras and clocks and tugboats – hold a special place in the imaginations of humanity because they perform the functions of life – like capturing moments, acknowledging time, and tugging boats – without the emotional upkeep required by living beings. You can leave your riding lawnmower out in the yard for a few days while you go on vacation, and if you return to see that vandals have dented the hood you might be a little upset, but as long as it doesn’t impact the mowing experience you’ll get over it. Moreover, your neighbors won’t think the worse of you, and might even feel bad for you. The same cannot be said if I use this example, but replace the word “riding lawnmower” with “pony.” I think most socially adjusted citizens in our republic would agree: leaving a pony out where it can get vandalized is not OK; most pony owners won’t get over a dented pony, hobbling through the pasture.
But what of dignity for mechanical objects? Though lifeless, do they not deserve respect and care? Machines are a manifestation of labor and thought at several levels, often spanning many generations. Shouldn’t their contribution to society be measured with that of their operators?
The French philosopher Roland Barthes says of cars:
“I believe that the automobile is, today, the almost exact equivalent of the great Gothic cathedrals: I mean, a great creation of the period, passionately conceived by unknown artists, consumed in its image, if not in its use, by an entire populace which appropriates in it an entirely magical object.”
Barthes is comparing the concept of the automobile as a thought-induced construct manifested through mass production to the actual, physical Gothic cathedrals. The difference being that in the temporal world, part of the appeal of mechanical objects when weighed against their biological counterparts or architectural/intellectual simulacrums is that once they’ve served their purpose (i.e., once all the boats have been tugged, the times have been kept, the memories printed and hidden in a shoebox under a bed, the lawns de-grassed, and the people driven to their final destination), the mechanical thing can be pushed off a pier or in some other way discarded, never to bother its former owner again. Should an individual want to fill the void left by their jettisoned machine, they need only stroll down to the store and pick up a new one. The idea a machine represents is eternal; its earthly representatives are disposable. That’s the stance of the marketing department, anyway.
I don’t agree with that kind of thinking. I am a priest of the mechanical cult; a professional entrusted by society to perform the rituals of construction, repair, and upkeep in a responsible manner. My vows state that if something is truly worth making, it’s also worth maintaining, and a looked-after bicycle can travel many miles for many years with little effort lost to inefficiency. For inefficiency is waste, and waste is evil. This is not opinion, but religion.
Like many priests, I am also a sinner. Oh, if every plastic spoon in the trash and every rental car whose tires I needlessly smoked in Wal-Mart parking lots came with a sentence in Hell, I would indeed be wary of the afterlife. I confess; I’m a party to waste. Though through the wisdom of my prelates, woven into the fabric of my life as counsel, I found that my wickedness has a source, a devil, a malignant intelligence outside my own, bless my levers and gears. This beast goes by many names: Apollyon, Beezlebub, Satan –UGH!– debt, envy, greed –AH!– consumption, marketing, commoditization –OH LORD! The forge does burn brighter at the sound of those names. Low, have I been brought by these insidious fiends. Far, is my path to salvation.
That was the promise they gave me. To reach, to push, to grow so that I might consume more, that was their true goal.
Here I shall divulge the secrets of my past life, the schemes I performed not so long ago that made me the wretched brute you see on this page. Bear forth and witness, all ye who have the grit, for I am not the only one so afflicted.
Son of Man once came to me at my altar in one of the many bike shops where I plied my Sabbath. He had a fine bicycle, an American-made racing machine. I cross-referenced the paint scheme with the catalogs I have memorized to deduce someone built it in the same year of my birth.
“You know,” I said, “that’s a nice antique you got there, but technology has come a long way since whatever century you got that thing in.”
“Don’t get me wrong, I like pretending I live in the past too, but if you like riding – I mean really riding, not just putting around the driveway, but testing your strength of character against all the unflinching forces of nature on the gauntlet we call Bike Path – you need to rest your wheels on the cutting edge, friend.”
“That’s right, get you an electronic-shifting, wind-tunnel-tested, carbon-fiber-framed, computer-designed, superbike and I’ll be dog-goned if you aren’t deafened by the sound of car horns praising your glory while you cruise down the center of the highway. A parade of YOU, buddy, that’s what we got here.”
“Good God! How have I lived such a deprived life! Sir, you have sated me on your tree of knowledge! Take all my money! Wife, come to me, this man has things to tell you!”
This conversation represents a weekly, if not daily occurrence in my profit-driven bike shop life. But what of the truth in my sales pitch? Is there any? I dare say, as a sinner and a scholar: no.
I won’t deny the data-driven prophecies that show the nicest bike of yesteryear is quantifiably slower than its present day equivalent. The wind tunnels and computer drafters used by modern tech-wizards do something,no doubt, but a quick lesson in racing history will show the fallacy in thinking the gap is considerable. In the Tour de France of 1995, a thoroughly doped-up Marco Pantani climbed the Alpe d’Huez while spitting pure adrenaline out the side of his mouth in under thirty-seven minutes on a perfectly nice but technically unimpressive bicycle. Nineteen years later, the Tour de France champion, a sober and saddle-weary Bradley Wiggins, riding a wind-tunnel-tested, electric-shifting, multi-thousand-dollar superbike, took so much longer to climb the same distance that he isn’t even mentioned in the record books, despite having won the day against a peloton of competitors forced into equal measures of Puritanism by the anti-doping agencies. Hark, for a lesson doth reside at the peak of that mountain: if you want to win, forget the new bike and spend your money on a good old fashioned cocktail of testosterone, amphetamines, and bribed officials.
But let me return to the Son of Man; his old bike was mighty fine: made by an expert, and trashed in every conceivable way. The high priestesses and warlocks of my order – engineers, chemists, and physicists – tell us that metal ages, but unlike flesh, it grows stronger. Heavy use causes the atomic bonds in metal to break apart then re-fuse in more complicated and more durable patterns. Mine is a religion of empirical knowledge, and I’ve been fortunate to find mentors in the back pages of academic technical blogs who’ve taught me this and other clandestine truths not found in brand-sponsored marketing literature. With my aficionado’s eye, it would be a savage misdeed to let the Son of Man’s old bike continue its dereliction or join the leagues of the discarded, locked at bike racks, waiting for the end of days.
“Slow down there chum! How’s about you leave that old bike behind? You don’t need it. C’mon buddy, there you go. Put it down. Yes. It’s safe now. Yes…”
Now the bike is mine. Now I am taking it apart, cleaning it, lubing it. Very nice, very nice indeed. The irreparable parts: removed. The dry-rotting tires: replaced. Everything left is cleaned, baptized in the chemical solvent bath. Purified. This is redemption. This is why I chose my faith. A vessel brought low as me is thus lifted by my hand, back into good grace. I perform the rites of quality control. It is now better than it ever was.
From this parable the discerning reader might see that my position as bike shop priest is founded on conflicting pretenses. My faith commands me to repair and to maintain; it says that all bikes that were made well must be treated well; inefficiency is the path to damnation. But the leaders of the industry insist it must grow. There are people within it trying to make a living, and the best way to do so is by selling new products.
And now I must confess one of the great secrets of my industry.
All those different bike companies you see in the shops, all the colors and shapes; it’s all a ruse. What is a bike brand, I ask you? The image most citizens think of is a group of engineers tweaking and toiling over new designs while technicians labor on one masterwork after another. But I protest, it is not so. The construction of life is at present maintained by the power of convictions, far more so than sense. The basic design of the bicycle is the same now as it was in the 1890’s. Since then mankind added gears, fiddled with brake designs, played with angles, and swapped materials: steel begets aluminum begets titanium begets imaginarium, and so on. These are incremental modifications, the culmination of generations of tinkerers building off others. The casual observer hardly notices the change decade to decade. What a bike brand really consists of is a group of administrators, market strategists, and graphic designers drinking coffee in a St. Paul suburb. A quick look at the staff section of any major bike brand’s website will show the total number of mechanical experts they employ could fit in a single confessionary.
True, enlightening technological breakthroughs do happen, but their timing is unpredictable and rarely offers a competitive advantage to just one company. In the 1900s the French inventor and cycling apostle Paul “Vélocio” de Vivie, invented the first bike with the ability to shift through multiple gears. His design would have made him a millionaire, if every other constructeur between Marseille and Paris hadn’t copied, tweaked, and rebranded it. In the dark periods between epiphanies, the industry keeps sales up by inventing new categories of riders, each requiring a specific tool: road bikes, gravel bikes, endurance bikes, touring bikes, light touring bikes, sport touring bikes – a single basic design re-sold to the same innocent believer. The value of these rhetorical transmogrifications to the company investors is immeasurable, but the soul of the bicycle, its inherent worth in the eyes of its owner, stagnates – supplanted by the body of newness posing all a-sparkle on the showroom floor.
Finding my religion challenged by the industry it serves, I finish working on my Foundry and leave the community non-profit shop – then I decide to quit the business altogether… But not before going to the distributor with my industry credentials and buying all the things I know I’ll never be able to afford again: a wheel truing stand with 3 planes of adjustment, two torque wrenches (the first can measure 1-28 Newtons and the second does 20-53 Newtons!), a tensiometer, a new set of cone spanners (you probably think I should have had these already, and I do, but they wear out quickly so it’s good to have spares), a crown-race remover, chain wear gauge, and a few more devices that are too esoteric and boring to dare publish in these secular pages. With all this equipment I can build my own temple.
Machines are tools; humans are tool users. Who, then, uses humans? What are we here for? Why? Walter Benjamin, a Jewish German cyclist and philosopher of modernity, who died fleeing the Nazis, said that these are times when one shouldn’t rely unduly on their ‘competencies.’ He said all decisive blows are struck left-handed, and I believe him. I do not know god. I do not know truth. I am no prophet. I am not worthy. I am not worthy. I am not worthy.
Ideologies are to the vast networks of society what rocket fuel is to the space shuttle: you cannot just fill the tank and light the fuse; you must administer measured amounts in carefully considered stages, all with much deliberation and consultation. Any other way and a person might lose contact with planet Earth. I cannot claim to be an authority, but I do know for certain that our world is not made for strict dogma. When godliness can’t be maintained, build a new God.
So do don't want to work that hard to ride a bike, but you also don't want a steam bike:
Nothing can please you! Maybe you should try an electricity-enhanced bicycle. This here is part one of a guide about some things you should know before getting into e-bikes. (WARNING! TO GET THE MOST OUT OF THIS POST YOU WILL NEED A 5TH GRADER'S UNDERSTANDING OF ELECTRICITY AND MAGNETS! IF YOU FORGOT ELEMENTARY SCHOOL OR WERE NEVER EDUCATED, HERE'S A FUN VIDEO YOU CAN WATCH)
E-bikes are bikes, first and foremost, and their anatomy isn't that different than any other two-wheeled pedal machine. There are, however, five crucial aspects to an E-bike that are easy to overlook but are nonetheless crucial to getting the most out of the machine.
The vital components that separate an E-bike from a regular bike are:
1. Motor: Brushed or Brushless 2. Electronic Speed Control (Amp controller) 3. Battery Types: Lithium Polymer, Lithium Ion, NiCad, Lead-Acid, and so on 4. Sensor: Torque Reader, Speedometer, Thermal Regulators, etc 5. Assorted Bike Parts: Chain, Tires, Cogs, Brakes – all need to be modified for e-bike use
I will go into the differences between all these things in this an other articles.
First, Labeled Wattage, and why you shouldn't trust it:
The wattage number brandished on the side of your e-bike's motor is misleading for at least two reasons:
Wattage is usually a measure of input, as in how much energy the motor consumes, using the formula: "Amps" times "Voltage" equals "Watts." A 250 watt brushless (BLDC) motor will do a hellavulot more than a 250 watt brushed motor, for reasons I'll get into below, but the marketing label on the side of the bike doesn't show that.
The wattage posted on the side of the bike and in the brochure might be wrong. The battery and amp controller have more to do with the wattage than the motor, and battery voltage can change depending on battery type and quality.
I'll talk more about wattage in another post, for now let's focus on the motor.
Now, motor types: E-bike motors come in one of two types: DC brushed or brushless. I'm going to simplify their explanation as much as I can, because there are plenty of engineering blogs that can satisfy any in-depth questions about how the different motor types work. I'm going to stick to explaining the benefits and drawbacks of each motor type for bicycle use.
The DC (direct current) electric motor exists now as it did over a hundred fifty years ago. The basic idea is that it sends an electric current back and forth along an axle, between two or more magnets with opposing polarities. –By the way, I'm going to use "axle" as a catch-all for all the parts of a DC motor that spin between the magnets (or stators, as they're usually called). This includes the "armature," the "windings or coils," and the "commutator," as well as the drive shaft in the middle of it all.
To keep the axle spinning, a set of brushes tap either the negative or the positive power terminals, switching the axle's polarity and causing it to spin against the magnetism of the stators.
Electric Motor - Explained - YouTube
The video above gives a more thorough explanation.
Advantages of a brushed motor for an e-bike:
Cost: brushed motors are the simplest, oldest, and least expensive type of motor.
Ease of maintenance: the brushes on the commutator wear out, as do the terminals. Luckily they're so easy to identify and switch out even a child could do it (indeed, I did it as a child).
Sparks: sometimes sparks shoot out of the air vents in a brushed motor and it looks cool.
Disadvantages of a brushed motor:
Poor heat dissipation: overuse can cause a blowout, and they need ventilation or heat sinks
Low speed range: the faster the axle spins, the more friction the brushes make when they strike the power terminals (and more sparks!)
Inefficient: batteries won't get you as far with a brushed motor
Excessive Inertia: The heavy axle tends to keep spinning even after the power turns off
Electromagnetic interference (EMI): those pesky brushes disrupt the magnetic fields around them, so don't set your cell phone down next to a spinning brushed motor
Less expensive e-bikes use brushed motors, specifically the cheap bikes that come direct from China in a cardboard box. Some hub-based hobby kits use brushed motors too.
Brushless motors (BLDC):
Microprocessors and sensors that detect electromagnetic flow (Hall Effect) have allowed the creation of electric motors that remove all the downsides of their brushed predecessors.
Brushless motors invert the design of brushed motors by wrapping magnets around the axle, and using the casing walls to hold the coils through which the alternating electric current flows.
Brushless motors have only one moving part, the axle, and its only point of contact with the outside world is the bearing that holds the axle to the casing. This means that BLDC motors create very little friction, which means they don't make much heat or noise, which also means they don't need air flow, which means they can be hermitically sealed, and thus water-proof, foul-air-proof, and corrosion-proof.
Hypothetically, a brushless motor can run for thousands of years without any repairs, so long as the operator replaces the axle bearing whenever it wears out.
Advantages of a brushed motor for an e-bike:
They're the best performing option currently (pun intended) available. They improve or remove every single downside of their brushed brothers
Cost: Hall effect sensors and microprocessors aint cheap.
Speed control: They need a special electronic speed control, which can cost as much or more than the motor
Most – but not all – high quality e-bikes use a brushless motor. While it is more expensive, it's the superior option in nearly every way, assuming it's paired with the appropriate Amp controller (ESC) and battery.
But it's also a component that a nefarious bike manufacture can skimp on without the customer realizing. The average person doesn't know the difference between e-bike motors, and neither do the sales folk at the bike store. The tendency for both is to focus on what they know an understand: gears, body position, frame materials, and so on. A company can slap a big old wattage sticker on the side of the bike and a lot of people will misunderstand that to be a good thing. Because motors are fairly overlooked they can be built and applied cheaply, and the customer is none the wiser until years down the line when the brushes on the cheapo motor wear out.
Please note, this isn't an infomercial for Red Wings. I wrote this article because I couldn't find one like it while boot shopping last year. I wasted a lot of time trying to find the perfect boot for cycling and casual use, but hopefully y'all can avoid that. At any rate, here be the best thing to put around your feet if you ride around on a bicycle in the winter:
I ride BMX pedals on my city bike because they dig into my shoes to hold firm and are easier than clips to stomp on and off of at traffic lights. And in the winter, clipping in can be a hinderance, which anybody who has ever slipped on ice and failed to unclip and then separated their shoulder on the cold, cold ground can attest.
Flat tennis shoes and skateboarding shoes work best with platform pedals, but in cold/watery weather they leave my poor little ankles exposed, so I switched to boots:
Too much tread!
Ah! but boots have heels and hard, thick tread that doesn't allow much purchase on a BMX pedal.
So I bought thin, flimsy boots with light tread, but they wore out quickly:
Buy cheap means buy twice
Which is how I got to the perfect cold weather riding boot, Red Wings:
Red Wing boots are made in Minnesota out of thick leather with heavy-duty stitching. They're designed to outlast the foot that fits in them so that workmen can pass their boots down to the next generation. They're also repairable, and the soles can be replaced or switched to a different style if the needs of the wearer change.
What makes this specific Red Wing boot (the 6" Classic Moc with the 'Traction Tred') a good cycling shoe is that it has a thick flat sole, like a skateboarding shoe:
And the conditioned leather on the upper repels water and wind while being durable and abrasion-resistant. The perfect boot.
There are some provisos, however:
For one, the cost. Red Wings aren't cheap. The ones in the picture have a small defect so I got them for a discount, but the retail cost of a new pair is around $300.
For another, since they're leather, they need to be cared for, much like a Brooks saddle.
And for another another, if you plan on walking in your Red Wings, they have to go through a break-in process that takes months, if not years.
Some notes on breaking Red Wings in for cycling: Straight out of the box my 6" Red Wings did not need to be broken in for bike riding. The main ankle movements in cycling are minor, and involve rotating the foot up at the top of the pedal stroke, and down on the back-end of the stroke, which medical nerds call dorsiflexation and plantarflexation:
Some cycling guides – like the one below from Bicycling Magazine – recommend reducing ankle movement as much as possible so that you can focus on developing the larger joints and muscles of the leg:
With that in mind, the stiff, un-broken-in leather of a new Red Wing boot works fine for cycling.
But for walking, hiking, and working – Oi. I've had my Red Wings for about eight months now, and they still give me blisters if I walk for more than a mile in thin socks. Granted, I don't walk in them that often, which is why they haven't molded to my feet yet.
And one other thing, the 'Traction Tred' sole is thick. I had to raise my saddle about an inch.
Oh yeah, and I guess I should bring up the fact that there exists an actual Red Wing Cycling Boot:
It's made in conjunction with another Minnesota shoe company, 45 North. I'm sure they're fine. I won't get a pair though. I already have some overpriced Mavic clipless boots that I never wear, and the reason is simple: who in their right mind clips-in on snow and ice? Extreme weather riders know that one's foot spends almost as much time on the ground as the tires on some excursions, and anything that hampers a quick foot-down is a liability. But I don't know, maybe some people just don't fall as much as me. It's also nice to clip in so that your foot position doesn't change over big bumps and stuff. To each his own.
You don't need much in a winter cycling boot except basic wind/snow resistance and a flat sole. But why not get those things with a little heritage-level style? Red Wings do the job, last forever, and look good. Git sum.
What do you do when it's winter but you still want to ride your bike but you also don't want to ride it on the road like a normal person but you also don't want to get a mountain bike but you definitely want a completely different bike than anything else in your garage, the more niche the better?
Get you a Monster Cross bike!
The rules of what constitutes a monstercross bike are pretty loose. I don't even know if I'm supposed to spell it as one word or two. The internet isn't much help, some forums say it has to be a road bike with tires at least 45mm wide and spelled with two words, but I think you could just as easily get a mountain bike and put roadie components on 'er and make it one word. I guess I could hyphenate. Monster-cross? Ugh. Either way, the goal is to make a fat-tire, drop bar road bike.
For a long time I thought monster cross bikes were the silliest genre in an already excessively sub-divided bicycle market. My thinking was that road bikes and cyclocross bikes are fine for road and gravel and goofing off in public parks, but the wide world of the Off-Roading belongs to mountain bikes, with their straight handlebars and an upright riding position.
And while this is mostly true, mountain bikes position the rider to have a strong weight bias towards the rear wheel. This is so that the rider doesn't flip over the handlebars as easily when they're haulin' the mail down suicide hill and a log falls in their path (I'm sorta over-simplifying, but that's the basic idea).
But in snow, modern mountain bike geometry leads to a wiggly front wheel and poor handling, especially at low speeds.
A monster cross bike takes advantage of a mountain bike's big tires, but positions the rider to have a more even weight distribution between the two wheels. Even weight distribution results in better handling over ice and snow, and more control while cornering at any speed.
But a rear wheel weight bias does make it easier to do cool skidz...
Want your own monster cross bike? Well, you can buy one pre-made, like the Gorilla Monsoon in the pictures. If you prefer to put together your own bikes I suggest modifying a mountain bike from the eighties or early nineties. The cross country mountain bikes of yesteryear have very similar geometry to road bikes, so just put some drop bars up on 'er and there ya go. Drop bars give you more hand positions than straight bars, which means different weight distribution options. Put your hands all the way out on the brake hoods and you'll get better front tire traction, put them back on the flats and you won't slip out under torque as easily. Hands in the drops will lower your center of gravity a little, which is good over uneven ice.
The other way is to find an old steel cyclocross bike and bang away at the chainstays with a ball peen hammer until it can fit 28er MTB tires. I'll cover than in a future post.
OR! Get a time machine and go back to 1983 and hire Charlie Cunningham to build you a monster cross bike, thirty years before the trend!
That's what Jacqui Phelam did, and then she went off and won a million races with it.
But this is assuming that you actually want to ride all winter. It's cold out there! And besides, why ride when you can slide:
I pulled a muscle in my back doing this stunt, so you better enjoy it.
One of the big things holding high-end cyclists back from buying a thru-axle bike in a big city is the lack of security options. Traditional 15mm nut and quick release wheels have Pinhead, Hublox, and a half dozen other designs to keep your wheels on your bike without connecting to an external lock, but for thru-axle riders there's really only one design on the market, and it's expensive.
This is a guide for a cheap way to secure your thru-axle wheels.
Caveat: if a thief wants your shit, (s)he'll find a way to get it. The game here is deterrence; the goal is to add so many challenges to the theft operation that the would-be thief loses interest.
What you will need:
Hot glue gun
Two coins, roughly the same size as the face of your axles (I used Icelandic Kronas)
A knife for removal
Prep the thru-axle face and the coins with rubbing alcohol to remove any oils or grease. Be careful not to touch the rotor.
Next, warm up the hot glue gun and use it to make a semi-circle of glue on either the coin or the axle face. You don't want to make a full circle because you want a section where you can stick a screwdriver or a knife to remove the coin if you have to. If you put that opening at the bottom the average thief won't know it's there.
The last thing you do is slap that sucker on the axle face.
As you can see, the coin blocks the 5mm hex hole. A thief who wants this wheel now has to know about this type of wheel, they have to figure out what's going on, they have to carry a sturdy knife to pull the coin off, and they have to take the extra time to undo the deterrent. If there's an easier thing to steal nearby, they'll probably go for that.
Undoing the Deterrent:
Simply stick a knife or similar sturdy object into the opening of the half-circle of glue, and pry the coin off.
The hot glue (now cooled, hopefully) will not damage the paint on the thru axle face. You should be able to pick off the remnants with your fingers.
This is not a perfect method, of course, but it's worked for the last three weeks in Chicago. I park in the loop and in other medium-to-high-risk areas, so should my wheels get stolen at any time in the future I'll take this post down.
Going into the 2006 Tour de France, Floyd Landis had been a favorite to win, but chronic pain forced him out of the lead. This was, in his mind, the last tour the thirty-one-year-old would ever have a chance at, knowing that after three unsuccessful surgeries he’d soon need to have his hip replaced. He broke it in a crash years earlier while working as a domestique for Lance Armstrong. His job, from 2002 to 2004, was to make space for Lance and guard him from the wind and other riders in the dense peloton. As an employee of the US Postal Service Race Team, he was expected to not only keep Lance’s druggy secrets, but join him in his chemical pursuits, which mainly consisted of hormonal infusions and replacing depleted blood with transfusions of fresh blood, taken from before the tour, when the riders were at their physical peak. Having served his time under the world’s greatest contender, the cycling string-pullers saw fit to reward him with his own grand tour squad: Team Phonak. Lance took the 2006 tour off.
But Where Lance’s US Postal team was a well-oiled doping machine, backed by Silicon Valley bankers who paid morally ambiguous doctorsand a cohort of mules to transfer off-the-book purchases of dope and medical knowledge to the riders’ team bus at strategic moments between stages, Landis’s Phonak, (also backed by an investment banker, but one with less nefarious acumen) ran its doping operation as well as I would have – which is to say, haphazardly. In his first year as team leader Landis got himself poisoned by his own blood transfusion. He’s still not sure what went wrong, as an investigation would have warranted outside suspicion. By the 2006 Tour de France he’d managed to build a doping conspiracy, with the help of his wealthy banker friend, based on what he’d learned at US Postal. Unfortunately for him, Phonak lacked US Postal’s discretion, not to mention precision – two of the most important factors in the successful running of any clandestine medical conspiracy. Stage sixteen of the 2006 tour ended horribly for Landis, the topping cherry of a disaster cake layered by a missed start on the time trial and a cascade of disappointing performances, exacerbated by his aching hip.
In his hotel room that night, Landis took one of the oldest dopes there is: booze. Having gotten thoroughly tipsy (which doesn’t take much when you’re an emaciated endurance athlete. I used to get slurring-drunk off three beers) evidence shows that he must have taken some hits of synthetic testosterone, a banned substance.
The winner of the Tour de France is determined by adding up the total time it took a rider to finish each state. By the end of the third and final week the winner will have spent about ninety hours in the saddle. At the start of stage 17 (of 20 total) Landis was eight minutes behind the leader. That’s huge. Most tours are won by a matter or one or two minutes. The 1989tour saw Greg Lemond win by a mere eight seconds. But a third of the way into the race, Landis got out of the saddle and shot away from the pack, bullet style. Soon he was a minute ahead, then two minutes, then three minutes. Every mile the peloton covered Landis seemed to do two. I’ve been in the position of those in the peloton. When somebody just takes off early in the race all on their own it’s tempting to chase, but there’s also a tiny part of you that wants to see if they can stay away. In Landis’s case, he would be on his own for several mountain passes, totaling close to eighty miles. That’s the stuff of heroes. “If he thinks he can finish eight minutes ahead of us,” they thought, “without a pacer or a wind-breaker or a support team or anyone to suffer with, then let him.” Had this event not been diminished by the fact thathe was cheating, it would have been one of the greatest feats in all of sport. With a look of terrified anguish he ground his hip raw flying up the ascents, then carved the asphalt all the way down. He went so fast the chasing motorcycle with the cameraman on back couldn’t keep up in a few spots, but they managed to catch him losing traction on corners, skidding, and saving himself from the rails just in time. At the end of a long straight away, leading to a switchback, he hit the brakes so hard his rear wheel left the ground, but he slowed enough to make the turn, barely. His doping not withstanding, Landis took some very serious chances to maintain his lead. Eleven years earlier Lance Armstrong’s teammate, Fabio Casartelli, died on a similar descent, and he was merely riding to keep up, not to win. But Landis’s risks paid off, for the short-term at least; by the end of the stage he regained his lead, beating second-place by thirty seconds. He held on all the way to Paris, and fanfare, and money, and fame.
Tour de France 2006 - stage 17 - Floyd Landis makes biggest comeback in cycling history - YouTube
Until the results came back showing the lab found an abundance of testosterone in his urine.
What followed was a series of ill-considered defensive strategies, including the publication of the memoir, Positively False, claiming Landis’s innocence, convincing exactly nobody. The UCI, cycling’s governing body, stripped Landis of his title, and he retired in disgrace.
And here’s the thing about Lance Armstrong: yes, he founded and ran a peerless illegal drug syndicate for years, but he was no gangster. At any time, Floyd Landis could have come clean, could have told the world where he learned to dope, and who supplied it. After doing so, he’d be slapped with a brief suspension, but would probably come back to the peloton respected (cycling fans are some of the most forgiving in all of sportsdom. I think it has something to do with the fact that cyclists often have to endure the taunts and misdeeds of motorists but can’t fight back on the road. We can stew in hatred and let the clueless car drivers of the world ruin our ride, or we can get over it – all cyclists face this dilemma at some point, and the paucity of revenge killings on the public record shows that most cyclists do some variation of: “forgive and forget”; “forgive but don’t forget”; or my favorite, “forget but don’t forgive”. Nearly every grand champion has a blemished record, but they’re rarely remembered for that). Lance had enemies – a natural consequence of dominating by cheating – and his enemies might’ve become Landis’s friends in the aftermath.
T’was not to be.
Lance Armstrong’s goons – a group of money managers and lawyers – convinced Landis that the best way out was to defend the doping system and fight – claws out and yowling. They even gave him a little money, a pittance but still, so he could publish his book and hire lawyers and play his trombone all night long on the deck of that Titanic.
Then, after the UCI stripped him of his title, the Armstrong crew dumped him. Stopped returning his calls. Let his life and family fall apart in exile.
If you’re ever looking for a good way to create a bitter, lifelong enemy: that’s how to do it, boy oh boy. Landis became a pariah in the seventh circle of loathing; nobody from the pelotonso much as sent a postcard. Around this time I heard the best heckle of my life: I was riding in full regalia, all sunkissed in skintight spandex and hi-vis accessories, when I ran a red light. A guy from a witnessing car yelled out, “Shoulda stopped, Floyd Landis.”
By working with federal investigators and journalists, a disaffected and resentful Floyd Landis tossed the grenade that blew up the doping conspiracy. You can see the rest of the story on Oprah’s channel, where Lance admitted to her, and the cycling populace by implication, that he cheated his way through his whole career. The feds filed a $100,000,000 lawsuit against him, but he settled for five million. “No one is above the law,” says Justice Dept attorney Chad Readler, “this settlement demonstrates that those who cheat the government will be held accountable.” Yeah right. A portion of the moneywent to Landis for being the whistleblower, the rest didn’t even cover the government's expenses in the case, and five million dollars is just weekend spending cash to the likes of a former international sports celebrity like Armstrong. Justice is a construct of human civilization, but pain is a guarantee of the human condition, and thanks to rampant drug use I don’t think either applies to Lance Armstrong’s story.
But why not just let people dope? Are blood transfusions so bad when it’s the racer’s own blood? Wouldn’t it be better out in the open with a professional medical team to mitigate poisoning like what happened to Landis early in his program? Is EPO really that bad for you? They give it to cancer patients after all.
There are internationally recognized rules against doping because of something Americans have always had a hard time with: exploitation. Certain people are genetically predisposed to handle drugs, others aren’t, and a mediocre racer that can super-charge on a pint of raw bull semen can race as well as a clean top professional – and will likely burn out faster too, but there’s always more where he came from, right? Following that reasoning, a top professional who’s willing to dope will become a super human. Race organizers are keen to the public’s fascination with extreme feats of endurance, so there’s an incentive to pump athletes until it spills out their ears if it might attract a larger audience. But the only way to find out who will pee lightening and who’ll die young and tragic like Arthur Linton, Jimmy Michael, Knud Enemark Jensen, Tom Simpson, Johannes Draaijer, Michael Goolaurts, and oh so many others is to suck it and see. Take at look at the early '90s, when twenty-three-year-old riders like Patrice Bar died in their sleep of heart attacks. Oh, and let’s not forget the legions of would-be’s who’ve been crippled by untreated addiction and left to fend for themselves after being outcast by their teams, their sport, their friends, and their families. Let’s not forget Marco Pantani, the greatest rider of a generation and only person to win the Giro d’ Italia and Tour de France in the same season, who died of cocaine poisoning while Lance trained for what would be his sixth Tour de France victory.
Pantani’s is an especially sad death: in 1999 he tested positive for excessive hemocrit levels, a sign of blood doping. He swore he never doped, swore on his mother’s heart. The Italian press capitalized on the scandal, scrutinizing Pantani on the front page year after year. He gained weight, he hid in hotel rooms for days, he drove recklessly everywhere he went; he smashed eight cars after cannonballing the wrong direction on a one-way street. “He could have faced that problem like an adult, like a man,” said Italian journalist Mario Pugliese, “Or he could have faced it like a kid, and tried to escape it, like a kid. And he chose that.”
--> Italian police kept on the Pantani case well after his death in 2004. In 2014 they released lab resultsthat implied somebody tampered with Pantani’s blood work. Renato Vallanzasca, an incarcerated member of the Camorra Crime Syndicate confirmed their suspicion that same year, saying his employers coerced a doctor to doctor the results to help the odds of an anti-Pantani gambling scheme they’d invested heavily in. And later the newspaper La Repubblica released a recording of a phone conversation involving an alleged Camorra crime guy confirming what Vallanzasca said. Point is: professional cycling is a volatile thing. Professionals have to deal with pain on and off the road that unnaturally shorten their careers and even their lives. Tossing amphetamine-dynamite into that bubbling volcano makes for a good show but only if you ignore the implied human sacrifice.
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