Tuesday, March 31, 2015

pro cycling victories: is the early season predictive?

The most excellent Inner Ring blog recently posted statistics on World Tour and Pro Continental professional cycling wins so far in 2015: the link is here. These numbers have come into focus due to Tinkoff-Saxo's owner, Alexei Tinkoff, sacking long-time team manager Bjarne Riis. Bjarne has been managing the team, and its predecessors, since it was founded as Team CSC in 2000.

Cycling is novel relative to most team sports in that there's no definitive overall standing. The UCI repeatedly cooks up various rankings but these are always consigned to the depths of trivia: it's a sport which is very much in the moment, who wins the race today, with certain races mattering more than others. So on what's important and what's not as important is more a matter of consensus than anything else. No two people will fully agree, except perhaps those who think the Tour is the only game in town. And those "fans" are generally derided by the "purists".

It's an interesting matter: not many teams at the top level will say they're targeting wins in January and February. The races "which matter" are from mid-March through October. The season starts in earnest with Paris-Nice and Tirreno-Adriatico, then the first monument, the one-day Milan-San Remo. Races before this are either of primarily regional interest (for example, The Tour Down Under) or are considered preparatory races where a top level rider may take the win if it's available but may simply be training through the race, for example going into the first stage already tired from heavy training, or may even do additional training after relatively short and easy stages. There's always riders who will cherry pick relatively low-level races to build up UCI points or win total, recognizing that the higher level races are out of reach, but most of the top tier riders have their focus later. This attitude is taken to its extreme in the "Le Tour, C'est Tout" attitude which was popularized by Lance Armstrong, but no rider can peak all year, and so you've got to pick your battles, and it's not likely that battle will be Debai or Ruta del Sol.

Anyway, here's the numbers from the blog (plot stolen from the InnerRing blog):

Team Victory Totals

You can see that Tinkoff-Saxo is indeed having a sobering season so far: only two wins. Meanwhile Team Sky, another team with aspirations to Tour de France victory, has sixteen, only two short of perennial classics juggernaut Etixx-Quickstep.

Even if you assume most of these races are of low significance, the question is whether they are predictive of performance later in the year. Obviously you'd expect some correlation: Sky and Quickstep aren't going to roll over and die. They're big budget teams with top-notch riders, while FDJ with its enormously lower budget isn't going to move to the front of the standings. But Riis, with his traditionalist focus on "the races which matter", no doubt is less concerned about the team's victory total in these early days of 2015.

So to see if there's a correlation between early wins and mid-to-late-season wins, I looked at data published on the blog last year. Here's that result:

image

What we see here is a dominant performance by Quickstep, leading the pack in both the early season and mid-to-late season. But among the rest it's less clear. Notable is that Tinkoff-Saxo (TS) improved considerably after April. This is as you'd expect for a team focusing on the Tour and the Vuelta. Sky on the other hand underperformed later versus earlier. This in part reflected the team's disappointing results in the Grand Tours. Astana was another team with Grand Tour ambitions, and indeed it won the biggest of all, the Tour de France with Nibali producing a super-impressive performance in that race, including its controversial cobbles stage. Astana (A) is another team which improved dramatically from April and beyond. You also see Katuscha and FDJ up there.

The correlation coefficient for this plot is 0.686 including Quickstep, but only 0.405 without. Clearly Quickstep was the most successful team at generating wins, but remove them and there's little evidence a strong pre-season is necessarily predictive of how the season will evolve from there. If this were the plot from 2015 you'd say the sacking of Riis was a remarkable success. Yet last year Riis was the Tinkoff-Saxo team manager for the full season. The result represents his focus on the mid-season races.

Tinkoff wants a more scientific approach to team management, similar to the Sky model. That's fine. But the message here is don't panic just because a favorite team isn't winning in Jan and Feb.

As an aside, I was curious if that correlation coefficient of 0.405 was statistically significant. So I pruned out all the races won by Quickstep, randomly distributed the remaining races in each group to one of the remaining 16 teams, and calculated the correlation coefficient for the two series. I repeated this one million times. I got a fairly normal distribution of correlation coefficients with values exceeding the target 0.405 a fraction 6.1% of the time. So while there's a clear correlation present here statistically it fails to disprove the null hypothesis that, except for Quickstep, there is no correlation. In any case the message is that the early season isn't so important after all.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Charles Vincent, Chris Bucchere, and SFPD

On March 2nd Charles Vincent, 66 years old, was riding his bike at the intersection of 14th and Folsom in San Francisco when he was killed by a car driver who was observed by multiple witnesses to have run a red light. Despite this, no charges are being filed. According to the story on Streetsblog, SFPD Explains: Driver Won’t Be Charged for Killing Cyclist at 14th & Folsom, a witness also had Vincent riding through a red light in his direction, and so the collision occurred when both people had reds. "The DA is not gonna charge that person with a crime because there’s a contributory factor" according to SFPD.

This is an interesting spin on the law with which I'd not formerly been aware. If someone is in violation of code, it's sanctionable to kill them with your own violation? Curious.

Rewind to the Chris Bucchere case.... Chris rode his bike at approximately 31 mph through the intersection of Castro and Mission, hitting and killing a Sacha Hui, a pedestrian among a group of pedestrians who were crossing Castro. This case brought out a wave of rage against Chris, indeed against cyclists in general, which caused the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition to attack him and his behavior as irresponsible and unrepresentative of cyclists in the city. Indeed there's little question Chris was being reckless, and his speed was in excess of the 25 mph limit. But the question is here is one of fairness, whether drivers are treated comparably to cyclists when they are guilty of reckless behavior.

Compare and contrast. First, the Vincent case where no charges are filed because the cyclist was observed to have been in violation of code. Whatever violations the driver committed were thus rendered irrelevant: there's a "contributory factor."

The Bucchere case, on the other hand, went something like this:

A: "That speeding cyclist blew through the stop sign and hit the pedestrians legally crossing the intersection - throw the book at him!"
B: "But the video shows he entered the intersection legally."
A: "Well, never mind that -- he still plowed into those pedestrians legally crossing the intersection!"
B: "But if he entered legally, and was near the speed limit, it's impossible the pedestrians entered the intersection legally -- there's an all red phase long enough to clear traffic, so they entered well before the walk signal."
A: "Well, never mind that -- someone says he ran a stop sign during one of the blocks before the intersection."
B: "Really? Okay -- felony manslaughter!"

I'm not defending Bucchere; he screwed up. But if anything violations by drivers of multi-ton motor vehicles need to be treated more seriously, not less, those pedaling their 10 milliton bicycles. The repeated pattern of San Francisco Police behavior in these matters is demoralizing: there's so many. Amelie Le Moullac is just the most egregious of so many tragic cases where cyclists have been killed and blame-the-victim has been the first line of investigation. But when it's a cyclist who causes the damage, things are very different.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Milan - San Remo debriefing

I posted my predictions for Milan San Remo yesterday. I was really looking forward to this race, perhaps more than any other of the Monuments.

This morning I watched Milan San Remo in two parts. First I watched a feed from steephill.tv until 34 km to go. At that point the riders had finished with Capo Berta and the Cipressa was looming. I left then do to a ride and when I returned watched first one video of the Cipressa and then another of the final 10 km including Poggio. There were small gaps between what I saw live and the first of these videos, and another gap (the Cipressa descent) between the two videos. But despite the gaps I really enjoyed watching the race.

I have to say I was pleased with how my picks did. I was all over Cavendish because I thought his team support (especially Kwiatkowski, and Stybar) was so strong and he's a proven rider who has come into the early season relatively fit. Well, stuff doesn't always go as planned, and first Cavendish threw his chain on the Cipressa, causing him to burn matches he desperately needed on the Poggio, then Kwiatkowski and Stybar crashed on the Poggio.

As an aside, Cavendish used to complain about his SRAM Red, but this is the second time this year he's dropped a chain at a critical point in a big race (the other a sprint finish in Tirreno-Adriatico) and this year he's on Shimano Di2. But he runs Di2 with FSA chainrings and therein lies the issue, some say.

I dismissed Kristoff's chances because I thought his fate over Poggio would be tied to Cavendish's. When I saw him at the back of the pack on Cipressa I thought smugly that this had turned out to be a sound prediction but then later I saw him being led up the Poggio by his dedicated teammate Luca Paolini. I was amazed because Kristoff his built like a tree trunk... and a Sequoia not some flimsy eucalyptis. How does he haul all that mass over those climbs? Anyway, there he was.

Other than this detail I think I was fairly spot on. My early attack threat was Thomas, and while his attack came earlier than either he or I expected, he was indeed the first over the Poggio. But the gap just wasn't enough: he needed at least 15 seconds to hold off a chase, a gap he had approaching the top, but there was enough coherence in the chase that that evaporated.

In a Cavendishless sprint my top pick was Degenkolb, and well,.... heh.

Sagan and Cancellara and Valverde were all sort of in the not-quite-good-enough category I thought they'd be. If the race had been to the top of the Poggio Sagan has better chances than Degenkolb but the descent and subsequent 2 km straight has a congealing effect. Valverde as a printer is a notch lower still than Sagan but lacked the top end to solo away. Meanwhile Cancellara missed his usual podium position but as he noted the riders ahead of him were all stronger sprinters so it was the best he could do in the circumstances.

So I was very pleased with my hasty picks for MSR. Next up is Flanders.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Milan-San Remo

Milan-San Remo is the longest of the classics, in many way a throw-back to the old days where lack of television coverage meant speed and intensity was hard to convey, and lacking that, race organizers had to impress the fans with sheer magnitude: of rugged riders riding superhuman distances over impossible terrain.

The thing is until the 1960's Milan-San Remo wasn't particular long by professional standards. It's held fairly close over its history to its present distance of 293 km (1 km shorter than 2014). Here's the course distance from two sources: http://www.milansanremo.co.uk/ through 2009, and http://cyclingnews.com since 2010:

image

The iconic Poggio was added in 1960 to reduce the finishing pack, an inland deviation which increased the distance from 281 km to 288 km. Then in 1982 the Cipressa increased the distance to 294 km to make the end game even harder. Le Manie was added to further increase the attrition in 2008. This last climb was removed in 2014 and remains omitted from the course in 2015, a change I have seen credited to the influence of Mark Cavendish, who ironically won in 2009 despite the climb's recent addition.

Anyway, Milan-San Remo is somewhat unique among professional races in that the distance has been increasing despite the general trend towards shorter races. Indeed, back in the first half of the 20th century, Milan San Remo wasn't even particularly long by Tour de France stage standards. The Italian race has brushed with but never actually touched the magic 300 km barrier, but the Tour de France has often surpassed that. Here's the number of Tour de France stages of 300 km or more (distances from Memoire du Cyclisme):


1900’s:47
1910’s:82
1920’s:106
1930’s:14
1940’s:3
1950’s:12
1960’s:4
1970’s:0
1980’s:3
1990’s:2
2000’s:0
2010’s:0

The last 300 km stages were in the 1990's. Indeed the last year there was even a stage of 250 km was 2000, almost 15 years ago and fading into the trash heap of the EPO-infested years of professional racing. In contrast, in 1967, coincidentally or not the year Tom Simpson dropped dead on the slopes of Mont Ventoux, there was an absolutely monster stage of 359 km on the penulatimate day, that following four consecutive days of stages over 200 km, 5 days of the past 6, and preceding a double stage on the last day which included a relatively long 46.6 km individual time trial into Paris. That 359 stage, from Clermont-Ferrand – Fontainebleau, was won by France's Paul Lemeteyer, with the names Basso and Schleck in 3rd and 4th (Marino Basso of Italy and Johnny Schleck of Luxembourg). I suspect Simpson's death was a good hint that you can push riders too hard, and this was clearly too hard: 4780n km in 25 stages.

So back in the day, Milan - San Remo was a good stepping stone to the longest of the long Tour stages, the latter races starting from a state of considerable fatigue. Today it's an anomaly, a mutant, with Tour stages lucky to surpass 70% of Milan - San Remo's 293 km distance.

The key thing to me is the shortening of the stretch after the Poggio. That 1 km distance is huge. Sure, the first year the stage was lengthened it was won with a remarkable attack at the base of the descent, so the finish wasn't formally a sprint. But since then the day's of attacking on the Poggio to solo for the win have been essentially over. Being able to focus the effort from the bottom of the descent over 1 km less distance, and on top of that giving a strung-out peloton 1 km less to catch a solo attacker, is a huge advantage. It basically brings the Poggio back into the game. How many seconds at the top of the Poggio is that worth? I'd say at least 10. And 10 seconds at the top of the Poggio is extremely hard to gain: the climb isn't steep enough to shatter a coherent chase.

So I'm super excited about tomorrow's finish. My pick is still Cavendish because he's proven he can make it over the Poggio with the group, most recently last year, when the remarkably cold conditions took away his edge at the finish. Additionally he's got an incredible support staff in world champion Michal Kwiatkowski and Strada Bianca winner Zdeněk Štybar, not to mention Mark Renshaw for the leadout. Mark rarely lets down his teammates' support, and this is an all-start support team. Additionally the forecast is for a headwind near the finish which makes it harder for solo attacks. I've seen last year's winner Alexander Kristoff picked for the win. No way. If it isn't Cavendish for the win, it will be the return of the Poggio move, and that will be a good thing for the race.

Another option is of course Peter Sagan. Sagan's hope is a slim line between a power climber getting away and Cavendish making it to the line. If he's going to win he needs to ditch Stybar and Kwiatkowski because neither is going to take a hint of a pull if Cavendish is in a chasing group. That's a much more complex win scenario than Cavendish's. So I don't see Sagan doing in, even if he is maturing as a rider and that should in principal help him at this race.

John Degenkolb maybe has a slightly better chance than Sagan. He could survive the Poggio with Cavendish getting dropped, and even with Kwiatkowski and Stybar sitting on his wheel, there's not much they can do about Degenkolb if there's anyone else in the group willing to help.

Of course there's Cancellara who's gone from a solo specialist to a small group sprinter and he also has a chance in a similar situation.

For that solo escape I think is much more likely I really do not know. None of the names on the start list are obvious candidates. But such moves often come from riders who aren't the top favorites: they're less strongly marked. Geraint Thomas of Sky, perhaps? He's 80-1 as I write this (betting odds here). Valverde is an obvious option but I don't see him doing anything so bold.

So I'm sticking with Cavendish simply due to the strength of his team.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

SRAM 1×11 road system

It's just been reported SRAM is coming out with a 1×11 road system. This is hardly unexpected: they've already done this for mountain bikes and cyclocross.

Single chainring road? Are you crazy?

Hardly. First, I have several friends who like riding around the San Francisco Bay area on not just single front, but single rear as well. Fine-tuned gear ratios are somewhat over-rated.

But in a race situation, this wouldn't do. Only 11 cogs? That compares to, for example, 20 gears on a 2×10, right? The jumps will be almost twice as big (10 gaps compared to 19).

But this isn't how it works. On a front derailleur system, you tend to shift the front, select gears from the option for that chainring. You only shift the front to shift the range of available gears, not to fine-tune a gear. Using the front to fine-tune a gear ratio used to happen, way back when when people ran 5 or 6 tooth cogs in the rear, and then mostly for bike touring where taking the time for an extra front shift wasn't a big deal. But in racing it's mostly been shift the front only when necessary.

Given a typical 10% jump between cassettes, and a 35% jump between chainrings, the front chainring adds only around 3 effective gears. So a 1×11 is similar to a 2×8.

Consider the following two systems:

1×11:
48 front
11-12-13-14-15-17-19-21-23-25-28 rear

2×8:
39,53 front
12-13-14-15-16-18-21-23 rear

There's a great on-line gear calculator which allows these sorts of comparisons. Click here to see the result, which I reproduce here:

There's a 13.3% jump from 15-17 for the 1×11, which is slightly uncomfortable, compared to a slightly smaller 12.5% jump from 16-18 for the 2×8, but otherwise the two systems are very comparable. And this gear range, while hardly relaxed, is certainly enough to cover the vast majority of road races I've done, and most of the hill climbs.

The advantages of the system are weight and ease of use. You lost the weight of the front shifter mechanism, cable, housing, and front derailleur. That's all nice. But the big win is never worrying about a front shift. They take time, they're error-prone, and more complicated. The only downside is chain angle on the extreme gears: it's not as bad as cross-chained gears on a 2×10 or 2×11, but not that much better.

The effect on cross-chaining on drivetrain resistance has historically been overstated, however: measurements show the effect is relatively small except when things start rubbing. So this may be an acceptable price, especially if the extreme gears are used only rarely.

So what would I run? I'd use the 11-28 as described, then use a 48 chainring for "road races" (which I don't do much of any more), a 44 chainring for more double century type events and rides with steeper climbs, and a 36 chainring for steep hill climbs. Swapping rings shouldn't be bad since there's no need to adjust the front derailleur since there would be no front derailleur. The downside might be the need to change chain length, depending on rear derailleur capacity. Note the rear derailleur on a single-ring SRAM system doesn't work the same as on a multi-ring system: no need for dual-parallelogram since the derailleur never needs to accommodate differences in effective chain length due to front shifts. But I suspect it should still be possible to do chainring swaps without chain length adjustments.

Bicycle Quarterly volume 13 number 1 has a nice review of the SRAM 1×11 cyclocross system. The article notes there that the 11-28 cassette had a 19-22 jump (16%) (SRAM page). I'd rather go 15-17-19-21-23 and get the 13% jump from 15-17, I think, with the single ring. With a double chainring if you're looking for a small-20 or small-21 you are probably on a relatively steep hill where the grade changes often enough that being off from optimal isn't that big a deal. On a single-front system, however, this cog range is more likely to come up during riding on a steady grade. Fortunately Shimano cassettes provide this gear combination.

Unfortunately we're down to only one ProTour team on SRAM (it's more popular with women's teams). But I guarantee we'll see this in action at Paris-Roubaix. It's just too good for that race.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Riding Brevets: Part 1, Texas

This year I decided to dip my toes in the brevet pool.

Back now further in time than seems real, in the late 1990's I began a Hill Country Randonneurs brevet series hosted by Russell Hahn and John Fusselman out of Austin Texas. I didn't ride these bacause of embracing any sort of randonneuring culture. It was more an interest in the ultra culture, a culture I'd experienced with Nick Gerlach's excellent Texas Hell Week, which I first attended in 1997 when I was at Stanford, then later on a more limited basis when I lived in Austin from late 1997 to 2000.

In California, we had our double centuries: fully supported 200 mile events where all you had to do was carry two water bottles and enough food for at most 40 miles. Davis Double, for example, had 11 rest stops, more than one every 20 miles. That could easily be ridden skipping every other rest stop with just two bottles and a bar or two in the pocket. They're about the riding, little else. It's an intoxicating feeling.

Brevets are nominally similar: self-sufficiency is valued, and finishing within the hr / 15 km time limit valued far more than speed. Given two riders, one blasting away at 30 kph but suffering a mechanical and sagging in, the other plugging away at just within the time cuts but finishing, there's absolutely no question who had the most successful ride. In a brevet, you don't quit. If your bike breaks, you find a way to fix it. If you get tired, you rest and start again. If the weather turns unrideable, you wait it out. Only if you can't make the deadline, which allows for considerable margin on flattish courses, do you contemplate accepting a non-finish.

I didn't particularly have any attraction to this approach. I liked riding faster rather than slower. Not so fast that I tried to skip too many rest stops in a double. It's nice riding unencumbered. But there comes a point when I was willing to pull the plug.

But there weren't any supported doubles in Texas in those days. Russell and John's brevets were the main game in town. So I did those.

A 200 km was first. That is a short ride by brevet standards. Blast away. But I've never been one to "blast away" for 200 km. It went far slower than I'd expected -- close to 8 hours. But I finished without issue. Honestly I don't recall the details.

The 300 km was next. We started at oh-dark-30 in front of a Walmart. Everything went well, except we started so freakishly early that my body just wasn't ready to do its morning business.

So on to the Walmart lot. I was a bit shocked to see one of the riders, whom I won't name, pee behind a car parked in the lot. It was stupid-early. Maybe it would dissipate by the time the store opened.

It was immediately clear this was different than the doubles I had done in California. I found myself off the front with another rider very quickly. We had our route sheets, no GPS back then, which seemed clear enough.

Not far into the ride we reached an intersection which didn't appear to be marked on the route sheet. After some indecision I recommended we turn left. The other rider followed me. Not the best decision he made that day.

Mile after mile passed. Finally we reached T intersection with a major highway. We'd obviously gone the wrong way, and had been riding for a considerable time that way. Ah, well. I'd wanted 200 miles, and it now appeared I'd get it. So we turned back.

With probably close to 20 miles extra, we were obviously no in last place. But the rest of the ride we managed to pass again all of the other riders. As I noted, there was a philosophy difference here. They were all about ride-all-day endurance. I was about pushing the limits, emptying the tank for the stated distance.

My partner managed to drop me along the way. But approaching the turnaround, I saw him returning. I hit the turnaround not far after, giving me confidence that I could catch him if I rode well. It was game on.

Along the return route I indeed managed to catch him. A happy wave, and I was past. Then it was give everything to get back to that Walmart.

Of course, so many years later, the details are lost to memory. Maybe I have a ride report hidden away somewhere. But what I do remember is how much, how very dearly much, I regretting my failure to, err, "get moving" before the ride start.

Those last kilometers were hell. I was running away from 2nd place, counting every kilometer in my head, suppressing not only the pain in my legs but the desire to seek out the nearest men's room and put my priority of speed behind. But as the kilometers ticked off to the finish, I knew I couldn't stop. I had to make it to Walmart. And then I was there: at the giant parking lot. It was late afternoon, and the store had been open for hours. I sprinted to the entrance, taking my bike inside.

"Excuse me; do you have a rest room?" I gasped to the first person I saw who looked official.

"It's in the back", I was cheerfully told.

In Walmart, that's not so close. I contemplated riding it, but decided that probably wouldn't work out. Instead I sprinted in my Speedplay cleats. There's something Pavlovian about being in close proximity to ones goal at times like this. Had the brevet been 10 km longer, I would have gone 10 km further. But being within striking distance caused biological processes to initiate.

I made it. Barely.

On my way back, I passed a display of duct tape, incredibly cheap by my standards to that time. I picked up a roll, puchasing it on my out the door. It's to this day the only thing I've ever purchased from a Walmart. It lasted me many years, as well. I'm pretty sure the Faustian bargain we've paid for cheap duct tape in the form of Walmart big box development isn't worth it. But now I was among the unpure.

After the ride I chatted with Russell about the route sheet. Why was that intersection where we took a wrong turn not marked? "Everyone knows the way there" he responded.

Next up was the 400k. This was going to be a big bite for me to chew because I'd never before ridden that far. And still as I write this I've never ridden that far.

I don't recall any details until around 320 km in. I'd been slower than I'd hoped and darkness had fallen. Suddenly the skies started to dump while lightning strikes illuminating the strong rain. And by "rain" I mean Texas rain, not he California imitation that sends cyclists fleeing for shelter (actually all it takes is a bit of green on the Doppler radar map to send Californians running for shelter).. Bike lights weren't nearly what they are today and my Vistalite barely illuminated the road. What chance I had of seeing was destroyed by the glaring headlights of oncoming vehicle traffic. I was terrified.

I got off the bike, walked to the nearest house, and knocked. A woman answered, frightened by the sight of me. I asked for a chance to use her phone and, instead, she offered to drive me back to the S/F, a considerable distance. This is the Texas I like to remember, not the Texas of beer can throwing pick-up drivers. I gratefully accepted and she drove me back to Russell's place, where I had stayed.

The next morning Russell and John had returned. I was amazingly impressed that they had finished, despite the storm. They'd waited it out in a restaurant, they said, then ridden the rest of the way. I felt ashamed by this. I had the race mentality: ride hard and finish fast or don't finish at all. The 400 km brevet has a 26.7 hour cut-off. The goal is to finish, using every hour of that time limit if necessary. I was still intimidated by riding at night, but it was the rain and lightning which made conditions so dangerous. Actually I was surprised they used such a busy road for the nighttime portion of the route. But perhaps that couldn't be helped.

But this goes back to the randonneuring culture. You simply do not drop out unless finishing is essentially impossible. I absolutely should not have dropped out that night. I'd hoped to finish during daylight. But when that didn't happen I should have found a way to keep going.

But the rain had just provided an excuse to do what I really wanted to do anyway -- avoid riding in the dark. I've never liked riding in the dark, blinded by the headlights of oncoming cars, at the mercy of the headlights of approaching cars. The statistical evidence was there it could be done: people rode at night all the time. Indeed I rode at night all the time, but as part of a bike commute to and from work, on urban streets generally well lit (or if not, only for short stretches). It felt more exposed out here on the urban fringe: roads designed for serving farms instead serving massive housing developments, monuments to the caccooning culture of the 1990's.

That experience was sufficiently nonreinforcing that it marked the end of my Texas randonneuring experience. In late 2000 I moved back to California, where I focused more on racing, then double centuries, then running, more doubles... the brevet culture just didn't catch me since their rides tend to be so early in the year here and I actually enjoy the additional support of the doubles. But this year I decided to give it a shot.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Tour magazine light bike test March 2015

Upon returning from a trip from KAUST in Saudi Arabia last week I connected through Frankfurt Airport. I was a bit grumpy because security had just confiscated my package of delicious Jeddah figs claiming they were a liquid hazard. It wasn't just that I was to be denied of the chance to share what I'd been finding so delicious during my 6 days at KAUST, but just as equally it seemed wrong for such fantastic fruit to go to waste, all over a ridiculous policy bourne of international paranoia. But my mood was slightly lifted when I spotted in a newsstand across from my gate the golden apple of German journalism: Tour Magazine. Depite a painfully long and even more painfully slow line at the stand, I risked being late to my boarding to buy it.

And I wasn't disappointed. Edition 2015.03 of Tour had a quantitative review of 3 of the lightest frames you can buy:

  1. Trek Emonda: The Trek Emonda line is actually relatively heavy. Only the top-of-the-line SLX with the pricey vapor coat option is particularly light, and it's spectacularly so. It was the lightest frame in the Tour test, an impressive result given the competition. They tested it with the full-bore weight-weenie version, which breaks the 5 kg barrier w/o pedals.
  2. AX Lightness Vial Evo: The Vial Evo is a stock design from AX Lightness, known for its super-expensive super-light marginally functional components. But when you want the lightest possible bike, you can't let money or functionality get in the way. The Vial Evo actually isn't particularly expensive in comparison to the competition here. It tied for second place on frame mass with the Cervelo RCA.
  3. Cervelo RCA: with the exception of its relatively short reach geometry, the Cervelo RCA may be the epitomy of frame design. In addition to being spectacularly light, it's also fairly aerodynamic, and continues the Cervelo tradition of pencil-thin seat stays for vertical compliance to yield a smooth ride.
  4. Rose X-Lite: This frame was substantially heavier than the other three, and I wasn't exactly sure why it was in this test. Perhaps it was for purpose of comparison.

In addition to these Über-bikes, they added 8 bikes "under 1500 Euros": bikes typically outfitted with Shimano 105 or even some Shimano Tiagra designed for more entry-level riders. It was an interesting comparison of what you get for the mega-bucks, for bikes costing at least 8 times as much.

The interesting thing about Tour is they tend to use a static point scale. So if they're testing super-light bikes designed clearly for people who put a very high priority on mass, they still use a point scale on which only a minority of the points come from mass. This is arguably okay, but what ended up happening is Tour discounted mass completely.

This happened because Tour uses a "school grade" system for rating components of a bike's merit. So instead of using mass in some unit, such as grams, they assign it a number from 1 to 4, comparable to grades in a German school. And like the German school grades, grades don't come in any arbitrary value, but rather a relatively small number of discrete values.

Here's the mass ratings for the frames plotted versus the total frame mass:

The 4 super-frames are the three symbols each rated 1. This goes from the Emonda, the lightest, to the RCA and the Vial Evo, which are tied, then to the Rose X-Lite. Ignoring these 4 points, I fitted a straight line through the points representing the cheaper bikes. The coefficients for this fit are shown. The X-Lite falls under the trend line, indicating its 1.0 rating on mass is somewhat favorable. On the other hand the Emonda sits above the trend line. It's getting relatively cheated by that same rating.

image

Not surprisingly, the X-Lite won the rating contest. If you put more carbon on your frame you can make it stiffer, and Tour magazine loves stiffness. Additionally added carbon allows programming in compliance while maintaining strength. But it's clear that the rating system is artificially compressing the weights of these these four frames into a ssingle value. It's silly, really.