Interbike is great way to see the latest and greatest, and any films from the gang at World Cycling Productions provides insight into the PRO peloton and the art of racing in the big leagues. Both, however, lack the depth and insight into what it means to be deep in the PRO world. Deep in the sense that you are living and breathing PRO cycling.
BKW recently caught up with veteran of the PRO ranks: journeyman, mechanic, and Belgian resident George Noyes, to discuss the subtleties that make the PRO circuit so enthralling.
About Mr. Noyes George began his career in the mid-eighties as a team mechanic for the Schwinn PRO team, graduating to the International stage, and making his Tour/Classics debut with the 7-11 team. From there, George built on his experience and knowledge as head mechanic for the Motorola squad in the early 90s, a short stint at Cofidis, and then the mother of all Classics squads, Mapei. George’s professional experience included Andy Hampsten’s Giro win, Armstrong’s World’s victory, and complete and utter Mapei domination at the “Queen of the Classics,” Paris-Roubaix.
George has prepared machines for some of the 20th century’s greatest riders and lived the “behind the scenes” experience by which BKW is so captivated. Over a few espressos, George opened up about his experiences and, naturally, I probed him for information and a sense of what his life was like while working for these teams. Honestly, there was so much incredible information that came from our discussion that it would be impossible to compile it into a readable form in a single post. Therefore, based on the size of George’s experience, I’ll provide small vignettes that comprise George’s experiences. Some parts of our discussion dealt with the classics, others with the Grand Tours. A few times, we merely spoke in generalities, other times, in full swing with detailed accounts of the weeks, days, and hours leading up to the moments in PRO cycling that are burned into all of our memories. The title for these posts will be “Bring the Noyes” and, it’s only fitting that I commence this series with a tale of LA’s World’s victory in a rain-soaked Oslo in 1993.
Oslo, Norway – August 29, 1993 Lance has always been a leader. Early in his career, LA’s tough exterior and strategic mind were beginning to take shape, a glimpse of the road ahead perhaps. In the days leading up to the road race, Motorola’s team management had exhaustively discussed race day tactics and without question, LA felt he had the legs to capture the rainbow jersey.
Motorola’s staff and riders awoke to a steady rain the morning of August 29th. LA was to ride a Tennessee-built titanium bike for the day’s event. George had prepared Lance’s wheels and glued a fresh set of tubulars. The pressure for the day’s rain: 7.5 bars (r) and 6.5 bars (f). As the mechanics feverishly prepared the team’s machines, LA and Motorola DS Jim Ochowicz had come out to the service course to check on the bikes and the weather. Ochowicz was especially concerned about the weather, the rain, and the team’s chances. The big issue for the mechanics focused on LA’s bottle cages. Apparently, the threaded inserts that held the bottle cage into the frame would not tighten properly and both cages were rattling. There was risk they would fire off mortar-style, mid-race. With the start approaching rapidly, one of the mechanics disappeared into the hotel to seek out a solution. He returned a bit later with four, self-tapping screws; the kind an old ski binding would use to mount to a ski. (In fact, they were the very hardware that held the hotel owner’s bindings to his skis!) The four simple screws were forced into the frame, securing the bottle cages to the frame. (Rumor has it the hotel owner had no idea that the screws from his skis had been carried to a World’s victory. That is, until his ski holiday was brought to an abrupt close mid-run. Apparently the screws never made it back to his skis.)
As George applied the finishing touches to LA’s machine, Ochowicz and LA continued to discuss the weather and the team’s chances and George was treated to a front row seat, which made him privy to a defining moment in LA’s career. In fact, in hindsight the comment seems so telling: As Ochowicz expressed his concerns for the weather, LA with an air of coolness and simplicity, reassured Ochowicz by saying, “Let me handle it.” In 1993, LA knew he had the mind to be a legend, it was only a matter of time before he began to lay the groundwork. Hours to be exact.
Suppose for a second that you are God. Not Eddy Merckx, but God. It’s T-minus 1 hour to the Big Bang. What would you want to have happen? You’ve got the power to create anything, everything. Wouldn’t you want explore the range of your own ideas?
Even though organized religion doesn’t often discuss what God wanted to occur independent of our arrival, I have often looked at our world and beyond and attempted to tease meaning from what I see. The conclusion I draw is that our maker wanted diversity, wanted weird, wanted beauty, wanted destruction, variation, surprises, confusion and the unknowable.
While I struggle with the idea that God actually likes war and death, I think they must have been an intended expression in the range of creation and no less important than waterfalls, hummingbirds and fluffy kittens.
One of my favorite features of the cycling world is, similarly, the incredible range of ideas and creativity we see. Bicycle frames have been made from steel, aluminum, titanium, carbon fiber and more (anyone remember beryllium?) Marino Lajaretta gave us knickers. We’ve got bicycles made specially for time trials, for road races, for dropping off cliffs and going to the store. Think about how Miguel Indurain wore a cycling cap. Bright minds have invented devices to track our heart rate, record the wattage we generate and even map the routes we ride in real time. What about the ever-interesting and changing route of the Tour de France? Let’s not forget that the bicycle has evolved from a single-geared contraption to a sophisticated drivetrain that can contain 30 gears or be shifted—gasp—electronically.
I write this as a way to frame my incomprehension at the blowback against technology that I sometimes see. I saw it against heart rate monitors and cyclocomputers. I saw it against integrated brake and shift levers. There’s opposition to carbon fiber frames and you’ve seen it against electronic shifting. On the other side, there are those for whom the world can’t evolve too quickly. They’d sooner drive a stake through a lug than ride steel or overshift a downtube lever.
Personally, I’m grateful that a lug cut by Peter Weigle doesn’t look like one cut by Brian Baylis or Richard Sachs. There’s nothing better than when an attack comes in a surprising way or at a surprising location. I love that Campagnolo, Shimano and SRAM are engaged in a battle royal of fresh ideas. Love it. As much as I love the age-old courses of the Spring Classics, I’m always excited to see a fresh course used at the World Championships. And every time a frame manufacturer comes up with a fresh idea, a new way to express the road bike in carbon fiber, I’m game, especially if they’ll give me some insight into how it was designed and manufactured.
Someday I’m going to have a durable 12-pound bicycle with eletronic shifting automatic transmission smooth. It will track my course, HR, wattage and provide POV video of my ride in a 1-ounce device I won’t have to plug into a USB port. It will be unspeakably stiff in torsion and offer 5mm of vertical compliance. It will have the aerodynamics of today’s best TT bikes. It will be gorgeous. It will fit me perfectly.
I’m grateful for the creative urge that drives the sport’s engineers, racers, builders and designers to make my pipe dreams reality.
We’ve just returned from our first opportunity to ride Shimano’s leap into the great unknown. Unknown because no one really knows how the market will accept it. In a down market fewer $5000+ bikes are leaving shops and there remains some resistance to bikes that can cost upwards of $10,000 even among those who aren’t hurting.
Already there is blowback to a group that will price more expensively than many well-equipped bicycles. The tech geeks are salivating and the traditionalists are wondering what unasked question has been answered.
I’m going to split the difference on this one: We don’t need Di2 the way we need more efficient cars. The Segway was an invention that hasn’t made the world more interesting. On the other hand, I wouldn’t want to still be stuck on Nuovo Record. Great as it is, I’m glad for integrated brake and shift levers—now there’s an answer to a question someone asked.
A few thousand people have already had a chance to ride Di2 on a trainer. I was excited to try it out on the road and feel what it was like under braking and attempting to downshift in corners and upshift the chainring during hard out-of-the-saddle efforts.
I’m going to cut to the chase: Di2 rocks. The shifting is simply the fastest I’ve ever experienced, faster, I dare say, than I would have imagined possible. While rear derailleur upshifts aren’t much faster than current Dura-Ace, the front derailleur upshifts are honestly smoother and faster than I thought possible, even when out-of-the-saddle and stomping the pedals in a Tom Boonen-goes-bye-bye effort. As a matter of fact, the faster your cadence, the faster the shift.
The automatic front derailleur trim function is another neat touch. Even if electronic shifting is an answer to an unasked question, a front derailleur that needs no trimming is something we have all fantasized about at some point.
I found the sound of the shifter, when far from the halls of the Sands Convention Center (and the crowds milling around the bike), to be strangely amusing. It’s not terribly unlike the sound of some brake pads on a carbon fiber rim, the difference being that the sound doesn’t last long (very short for the rear derailleur and just twice as long for front derailleur upshifts) or change in pitch.
The textured lever hoods feel like a rubber diamond file pattern. I’m not sure I’d want to ride on these for more than an hour or two with no gloves. That said, grip won’t ever be a problem on these.
Short of coming up with a lifetime battery, the engineers at Shimano have thought of most everything it would seem. I am precisely the guy who would forget to charge his bike and find himself riding home in the 50×17 at the end of 85 hilly miles, but I can’t escape the intrigue of this stuff. Heck, in the event of a crash or anything else that might throw off shifting performance, the electronic equivalent of the rear derailleur barrel adjuster is located near the handlebar so that adjustments can be made on the fly.
One thing I barely had time to experiment with was middle finger braking from the drops while downshifting with my index finger, or braking from the hoods and sliding my middle finger around to the downshift button. I’ve always appreciated how you could brake and downshift the rear at the same time with Dura-Ace, and I don’t particularly want to give that up.
There’s no doubt in my mind that this stuff is cool enough to warrant its place in the market. Whether it gains acceptance due to the serious coin it will take to purchase the stuff isn’t my say; units sold will be the judge.
The holidays have been especially kind to me this year. As if I did not have enough reasons to celebrate my father’s love of cycling, in 2007 he gave me two more…both hailing from Switzerland and both arriving in the familiar white Assos boxes. In one box, a pair of PRO Line tights that have enough wind stopping material on them to fool your lower half into thinking it was time for umbrella drinks poolside. The other contained the bee’s knees, the quintessential piece of the PRO kit: a PRO white Assos 851 jacket.
The debate rages on as Assos continues to stake its claim on the top of the cycling clothing pyramid. Some argue its quality and features are no better or worse than the competition’s top offerings. However, there is one aspect of the Assos brand that is never debated: pricing. Assos pricing borders on offensive, and when a product carries such a hefty sticker price, consumers expect greatness. The 851 jacket delivers.
For the past two seasons I have been living in a parallel world, one in which ambient temps were always 10-15 degrees higher than actual. In reality, I have been underdressed for two seasons. At the end of last season, I concluded that if I wanted to make it through another winter with a good base come spring, I needed to invest in some new cold weather gear.
Winters at BKW headquarters can mean 60 degrees and sunny to 10 below with a windchill cold enough to snuff out even the best intentions. Assos claims the 851 is ideal for temps ranging from 32 to 50 degrees. A wide range indeed and a perfect match for our proverbial, meteorological weather grab bag.
Ten Pounds of Swiss Action in a Five Pound Bag Assos has mastered the art of pairing warmth and comfort without bulk. This mastery is evident across the Assos products. From their world-class chamois to the 851 jacket, Assos gets the job done (and done well) with nothing extraneous. As I removed the 851 from its $40 packaging, the first thing I noticed is the jacket’s “hand,” a term used to describe to how the product feels in your hand or against your skin. The 851 is one of the most supple garments I have come across; the soft texture of the polyester sections feels silky on one side and the brushed fleece on the reverse makes you want to rub it against your cheek while sighing deeply.
The polyamide sections are the utilitarian end of the jacket, protecting the skin from wind and working in tandem with the brushed fleece to give you a mix of warmth and protection. As a cyclist, the windproof material is critical on the forward-facing panels, providing protection from the wind while the rider is in motion. It’s equipped with windproof panels on the front of the arms and chest and there’s front and back coverage on the collar and shoulders, the prime areas subject to wind when you are tucked into position. Assos is a stickler for details and this is one of the reasons their products are so desirable: a look at the lower half of the 851′s front shows a detail that could only come from cyclists who design clothing. The windproof material stops 6″ from the bottom of the jacket. This small detail noticeably reduces bulk when in the riding position. The arms have an articulation to them that improves fit when tucked and the torso’s front is slightly shorter than the rear, giving adequate coverage to the back of the jacket and minimizing bulk in the front. Moreover, like almost all Assos products, their signature grippers are an Assos-specific elastic that slips away from consciousness once placed in the correct location. This jacket is warm and comfortable. Undoubtedly, the 851 delivers a boat load of action with little bulk.
When sitting on a hanger the full PROness of the jacket is realized. The cut of the 851 mimics motorcycle leathers where the cut of the jacket is 100% business.
Junk in the Trunk By far, my favorite attribute of the 851 is the ample pocket space in the back of the jacket. Honestly, I have backpacks with less storage space than this jacket. There are four rear pockets, which is a significant improvement over the traditional three pocket design and nearly laughable when compared to the single zipper pocket on some jackets. The pockets wrap around the back of the jacket placing two pockets back and center and then one pocket to each each side. Additionally, the right side pocket also includes a zipper for valuables that could be accidentally yanked from the pocket if intertwined with say, an Enervit bar or the headphones for your iPod. As a bonus, there is significant depth and roominess to the pockets making them highly functional. Pack a rain jacket, a spare tube, digital camera, iPod, and house keys and there remains enough room for a Thermos filled with strong coffee and half a bundt cake. It becomes easy to overpack. Throw in a reflective stripe and Assos proves this jacket means business.
The Little Things Like a good cage match, with Assos, you can expect the most convincing blows to be thrown in the first round; this is accomplished with fit and feel, but with a dozen or so rides in the 851, I have begun to appreciate some of the minute details, those that keep you around. After all, it’s the hook that grabs you and the barbs that keep you. The collar is roomy enough to be comfortable over base layers with collars, yet somehow Assos manages to keep it tight enough that there is never a draft. The zipper is a work of technical mastery; the teeth are large enough that zipping up or down with gloves on is easy and at the base of the zipper lies a reinforcement that hides the square edges of the zipper start and keeps you from bursting out on those early season rides when multiple base layers and Belgian beers really stress the jacket. Assos even utilizes this reinforcement to throw a little healthy advice your way: Sponsor Yourself.
At $330 the 851 is a huge investment. But winter is a tough time of year and the features of the 851 make riding outdoors that much better. When you consider the effectiveness of the jacket, and the ability to to forego some of the intermediate layers that make up your current winter wardrobe it becomes easier to justify. Even if it hadn’t been a gift, I would have somehow, somewhere picked up the 851. If you’re seeking a winter jacket and have room on a credit card, do yourself a favor and take the plunge. The 851 is to winter riding what a chaise lounge is to relaxing poolside. The 851 is the perfect companion for the cold and wind that is your off-season.
The Assos 851 Jacket was originally posted on January 28, 2008. With the cold rapidly approaching most parts of the world, it seemed fitting to bring this post back.