Why is Thomas Lea of Steiner Ranch Cycling stoked? Because he just successfully completed his third Beginning Racer Program clinic, in which he learned the finer points of riding a fluid echelon and handling his bike in close quarters. (Also, he won a $150 gift card raffled to clinic attendees by clothing company Eliel Cycling.)
Bicycle Sport Shop’s Beginning Racer Program is a progressive series of five cycling clinics, aimed at equipping cyclists with the skills and knowledge necessary to race their bikes with confidence. The clinics are led by the Bicycle Sport Shop-sponsored racing team, Super Squadra, and held during the Driveway Series races.
The next Beginning Racer Program is on May 19, and will focus on sprinting. You can register for the clinic, here, and also earn a chance at winning a $25 gift card donated by Bicycle Sport Shop. This Q&A is the first in a series of brief Beginning Racer profiles, exploring what drew these riders to the competitive side of the sport.
How did you get into cycling?
I had a couple friends that were crazy into cycling. I used to make fun of them, because it seemed like that’s all they did. That was 11 years ago, when I was 35, and now cycling is all I like to do. I ride five days a week, at least. Saturday and Sunday are our club rides. Those are pretty standard. Then, I do a lot of indoor training on my KICKR during the week, intervals and stuff.
Tell us about your first race?
I never really wanted to race, but we have a couple guys on the team who’re really fast, and doing well in the TXBRA series. One of those guys is moving, though, and I’m currently the president of the club, so I figured I should step up and participate, and try and improve the club’s standing in the TXBRA rankings. My first race was last year at the Pace Bend road race. I could’ve done a little better, I placed 13th in our age group, the Master’s Category 4/5 race. It was raining, so that added an element of drama. But there weren’t any other incidents, everything worked out.
So what motivated you to do the BRP?
One of the many reasons I haven’t been doing a lot of racing is because I’m terrified of crashes. I figured I could pick up some really great bike handling skills at these clinics, and that would help keep me safer in criteriums and other races. I really like the cornering drills. That really changed the way I take turns at speed, I realized I was doing that completely wrong. Also, the three other guys who’re doing these clinics and myself now practice bumping into each other on our team rides. Everyone looks at us like we’re nuts, but it’s helped us get comfortable riding really close to other people, seeing that it’s not a big deal, and not panicking.
Austin has reached an important turning point in its evolution to becoming a great place to ride a bike. There are more people than ever riding bikes on our city’s streets, but all too often friends and acquaintances say that they are no longer willing to take a chance riding in the city due to our crowded roads and distracted, impatient drivers, and there are too many folks who won’t consider trying cycling for themselves and their families because they’re scared for their well being.
We can, and must, do something about that! Please join me in working to improve the environment for cycling in Austin by taking 3 simple steps that will help implement the city’s Bicycle Master Plan. The Bicycle Master Plan will create 220 miles of “all ages and abilities” protected bike lanes and trails, a city-wide system that would allow anyone from 8 to 80 to feel safe and secure riding in them. This will encourage the 50% of Austinites who want to ride bikes regularly to do so because they will have physical protection from vehicle traffic, with an added bonus of removing 20,000 cars from our inner city streets every weekday.
Three easy steps to success to begin transforming Austin into the best American city in which to ride a bike–
#1—Sign Bike Austin’s petition to encourage Mayor Adler and the City Council to fully fund the Bicycle Master Plan. http://ourstreets.bikeaustin.org/. (And take the next step by RSVP’ing for their rally on April 26th to deliver those petitions to City Hall)
#2—Take the City of Austin Mobility Survey with an emphasis on cycling and pedestrian facilities. On question #4 please check “Construct missing segments in the street, sidewalk and bicycle networks.” On question #8 choose “Local Mobility Needs” as your top choice.
#3—Join Bike Austin and support the great work they are doing to represent the cycling community with their education, outreach and advocacy for cycling in Austin.
Thanks for your consideration of this important opportunity. Working together we can live in a city that prioritizes safe, convenient mobility for everyone who wants to ride a bike for transportation and recreation.
It’s Time to Ride!
Ah, spring in Austin… bluebonnets bloom, the sounds of SXSW fill the air, and bike racers around central Texas prepare their two-wheeled steeds, shake out their legs, and focus their minds on the Driveway Race Series.
Held on a 1.8-mile car racing track in east Austin, the Driveway Series brings together a wide variety of cyclists, from newbie racers to local Pros. It’s the highlight of the week for most local racers, and a great entry-point into criterium racing for new and aspiring racers.
I first found out about the Driveway Series when I lived in Boston I had only raced two criteriums prior and was unsure of what to expect. I imagined a small, perhaps disorganized event, similar to most grassroots competitions. I was very wrong. The Driveway Series is a well-oiled and incredibly organized machine. Spectators line the course. Children eagerly anticipate the always-exciting kids race. And free beer and cider flow.
Today, when friends from around the country come to visit me, they leave green with envy after attending the Driveway Series. The casual, but also professional, event where we can both mingle with friends and test our skills and fitness in the one of the country’s best weeknight races, which certainly contributes to Austin’s status as a cycling Mecca.
Photo Cred: Alex Roszko
Last year, I recall counting down the days until my first Driveway Series race. I was filled with pre-race jitters at the season opener in March. I looked around the Category 3/4 field, not knowing a single participant. I’d done my fair share of Strava stalking to find average speeds and results, but I was still nervous. Criterium racing can be a daunting experience for any racer. I didn’t know a single thing about tactics or pack riding, and I ended up taking long and hard pulls on the front leading into the final laps. I blew up and needless to say, I didn’t take home the win. But the thrill of finishing my first Driveway race unscathed, and the throbbing feeling in my legs long afterward, is something I’ll always remember.
For new and less experienced racers, I suggest attending the Bicycle Sport Shop Beginning Race Program, a series of cycling clinic series ran by the shop’s elite racing team, Super Squadra p/b Eliel Cycling. These clinics are designed to instill new racers with the necessary skills to compete confidently and safely. Super Squadra is a team with years of experience and national titles under its belt, and these clinics provide a great opportunity to learn the best criterium racing techniques and tactics from some of the state’s top cyclists.
The Beginning Racer Program is a series of five clinics with a progressive curriculum, starting with basics like riding in close quarters and cornering, and moving onto more advanced skills like riding in a fluid echelon formation and positioning for sprints. As each clinic builds on the next, you’ll discover newfound confidence on your bike and a deeper understanding of the nuances of criterium racing. Heck, you might even walk away with the coveted leader’s jersey at the end of a Driveway Series race!
As an added bonus for attending the clinics, male category 5 and female category 4 riders will receive TWO upgrade points per clinic. Here is the official flyer for the clinics.
If you have any questions regarding what the clinics entail, please join us Monday March 14 at our Lamar store for a happy hour, a brief presentation on the clinics, and a Q&A with the members of Super Squadra p/b Eliel Cycling. The first Bicycle Sport Shop Beginning Race Program is schedule for the Tuesday, March 15, preceding the start of the Driveway Series.
“Please don’t get a flat.”
That’s what I muttered to myself as I realized I didn’t bring a tube when I set out to give the Specialized Diverge Elite a proper test ride on the Holey Roller course in Smithville, TX on Friday afternoon. I grabbed the 56cm Diverge from our Rental Department, threw on Speedplays and a Garmin mount, and I was ready to hit every road terrain conceivable.
The Specialized Diverge falls into the broad category of All-Road bikes. Is it a cross bike with slick tires? Is it a road bike with fatter tires? Carving the niche for the all-road bike means getting down to the technical features of the bike. It has the classic endurance geometry that Specialized has refined with years of making the renowned Roubaix, sporting a taller head tube for more upright riding and a slightly longer wheelbase than a standard road bike for increased stability on looser sections of roads. For added vibration reduction, the bike features ZERTZ inserts on the fork and seatstays, and a cobble-gobbler seatpost for additional vertical compliance. On the Diverge Elite, we get the incredibly stiff yet compliant DSW smartweld frame and a carbon fork. The combination of all these features gives you an incredibly smooth ride that doesn’t necessitate stopping every 15 miles to realign your spine and shake out your hands.
I wanted to push the bike and myself to the limits, so rather than ride the Holey Roller course at a leisurely pace, I decided to up the watts and go for KOM for the entire course. All 50 miles of it. If you’re doing the Holey Roller this year, there’s a challenge for you at the end of the article.
The first section of the course is on standard Texas pavement, relatively smooth with some chip seal patches along the way. The bike rolled along with ease as the plush 32mm Roubaix tires made short work of the rougher patches. It wasn’t until mile 12 that I could test out its gravel crushing capabilities.
This first gravel section was the mildest. I was chugging along at around 23-25mph in these sections, and admittedly was skeptical if the bike could handle these higher speeds in this terrain. But this is where it really WOW’d me. I never lost a bit of traction in the marble sized gravel. When I stood up to put power on the uphills, the bike never washed around beneath me.
The downhill sections were rougher. The gravel got bigger, and the washboards caused by car tires made me feel like I was riding a BMX pump track. Still, the bike never faltered and tracked perfectly through these sections around mile 17.
The farther along I got into the course, the more I appreciated what Specialized had created. The Diverge Elite is a great value at $1,499. Equipped with the updated Tiagra 10 speed, courtesy of Shimano’s trickle-down effect, the price drops in comparison to other models yet provides tried and true Shimano shifting.
Back to the ride.
The Holey Roller course has a long, formidable gravel hill to tackle around the halfway point. I was still making good time, but I noticed my heart rate pumping towards +173bpm. I figured I should hydrate but, “No! My bottle was gone!” I assume somewhere along the course it rattled free of its cage, leaving me parched and in pursuit of the KOM with only a small amount of water left in my other bottle. I pushed on. I was too far out and too committed to stop now. And pushing this bike to the limit was too much fun!
At this point, I had reached the second leg of the course. The scenery changed abruptly. I came out of the tall pine forest, some of which was ravaged by previous years’ fires, and into a bucolic paradise. On previous gravel rides on my race bike, I had to carry a bandolier of tubes and still call someone to pick me up (5 flats is my limit). The Diverge gave me the confidence to plow through the choppier sections without hesitation. Sure, at times I second guessed going 30mph down a gravel road, but the bike didn’t. I got that same white-knuckle thrill I do from riding BMX.
I rounded the last few turns and hopped back onto the original road where I started this ride. One final hill was left, and the KOM was in my sights. Cresting over the top and seeing that smiley faced water tower was a relief. I got to test out one last critical capacity of a bike — high speed descending. The beefy tires hugged the road like no other as I careened at 45mph into Rocky Hill Ranch.
Versatile. That’s my one-word summation of the bike. Want to do some light bike touring? The Diverge has front and rear rack mounts for your adventure needs. Doing a gravel race? The clearance on the bike is immense, accommodating up to a 35mm tread. All those compliance features smooth out the edges of a rough ride, but don’t sap all your power. For central Texas and beyond, the Diverge is an ideal option. And again, $1,499! It’s a whole lotta bike that won’t break your bank.
Now, the KOM. For those of you participating in the 2016 Holey Roller, I have a challenge for you. The male and female KOM/QOM on the segment BSS Holey Roller 2016 will get a Bicycle Sport Shop prize package! Just upload the route to Strava and we’ll contact the winners. The prizes will be at the Lamar location Monday after the ride.
Many of us over at Bicycle Sport Shop were left wondering what, if anything, would replace the long-lived (and loved) Tallboy LT that suddenly disappeared from their website some months ago. Rumors circulated between shop employees and customers, but no one had any definitive answers. Kudos to everyone over at Santa Cruz for keeping this under wraps so well, because you had us all fooled! On February 2, Santa Cruz unveiled the Hightower, a 135mm rear travel transformer of a mountain bike, with the ability to adjust its geometry with the simple flip of a chip.
The ever-increasing number of Plus Bikes, like the Specialized Stump Jumper FSR 6fatty, leaves frame manufacturers in the tough spot of producing both 27.5+ and 29’r options to accommodate the varying styles and preferences of the mountain bike community. Santa Cruz saw the demand for a bike that could fit both wheel options and hit the drawing board. They spent many hours testing and tweaking their designs to offer up a bike that truly can do it all.
Santa Cruz unveiled the 27.5+ and 29’r options that both come with 135mm rear travel, Boost 15 x 110mm spacing in the front/12 x 148mm in the rear, and internally routed cables (except the rear brake line). The suspension platform is built on Santa Cruz’s incredibly efficient VPP, or Virtual Pivot Point design. So regardless of what wheel size you opt for, rest assured that when you when mash the pedals, VPP will propel you down the trail with no loss in power. The 150mm dropper post will give you confidence to drop the seat and throw your weight over the rear of the bike when flying downhill, or keeping it out of the way as you punch up a technical climb.
Now, here’s where we get into the technical stuff (get your protractors and rulers). The 29’r comes out of the box with the fork set up with 140mm of travel, a 67° headtube angle, and 337mm BB height. The toggle chip, an eccentric piece of aluminum that connects the upper link to the frame, is set in the low position for the 29’r. But say you want to finally give the Plus-sized world a go for your next trip to Angel Fire or the Rockies. We can ignore the n+1 equation, get a set of 27.5+ Boost wheels, and make some minor adjusts to the bike by flipping the toggle chip. This slackens the head tube angle to 66.8° and drops the BB by a 2mm. To fully optimize the bike, Santa Cruz recommends your local bike shop change the internal air shaft in the fork to increase the travel to 150mm.
This however, is only a suggestion. The beauty of the Hightower is its ability to adapt to what you want. Many of the loyal Santa Cruz fans here at the shop want to swap wheel sizes in a matter of minutes, not the hour or so it can take to change out the air shaft.
Pete, one of our employees at the warehouse and previous owner of the Tallboy and Tallboy LT, says, “If I were buying the bike I’d get the 27.5+ model. The plus tires stick like Velcro on the slippery sections of the trail, and that extra travel gives me the confidence to skip over the ledges rather than roll down them. If I’m heading to a trail that’s a little more mellow, I’d swap out the set of wheels, flip the chip and keep the extra travel up front.”
Eric Clifton, assistant manager at Lamar and Austin High mountain bike team coach, shared his opinion with me (and his desire to purchase one). “The fork has a service interval of around 50 hours. After 6 weeks or so of riding I’ll rebuild my front suspension and swap out the air shaft, flip the toggle chip, and throw on my other set of Boost wheels”.
Each wheel size not only provides you with the best wheel for the terrain, but also allows you to hone various skill sets. Want to boost your confidence and technique hitting a technical Greenbelt descent? Throw on the 27.5+ tires hit the trail! When it’s time to service the fork, change the suspension to 140mm and put on those 29’r wheels and take on some single track!
I can’t wait to get my hands on one of these. The upcoming Santa Cruz demo on March 5th will have the 27.5+ and 29’r Hightower models, along with the other tried and true models. If you don’t want to wait, Bicycle Sport Shop has a limited number of early release Hightowers in stock. Call ahead and come down for a test ride!
This sweet Fairdale Weekender Archer could be yours! Donate today.
People like you make bicycling in Austin great. You volunteer to lead our group rides, you show up to important public meetings to push for more bike lanes and you teach the next generation of bicyclists how to navigate our streets safely on two wheels. But most importantly, you ride. Whether it’s a century in the Hill Country or a 5 minute ride with your kids to school, you’re demonstrating the power of bicycling to transform our city.
Now we’re asking you to help us take bicycling in Austin to the next level. Make a donation of $100 or more to Bike Austin today, and you’ll be entered to win a brand new Fairdale Weekender Archer bike (retail $880).
Our vision–that every Austinite, regardless of their age or comfort on a bike can safely ride in their neighborhood, to the grocery store, to work or to school–is achievable. Our volunteers are proving that we can transform some of Austin’s biggest streets, like 51st Street, Riverside Drive, or Pleasant Valley Road with the protected bike lanes needed to keep our kids safe on two wheels. But we need your help to grow our advocacy, education programs, and rides to even more neighborhoods in 2016.
PS – Every donation up to $5,000 made between now and December 31 will be matched dollar for dollar by Bicycle Sport Shop! Whatever you can give–$10, $20–will have twice the impact. Donate today.
More and more, we’re seeing mountain bikes come equipped with dropper posts–seat posts that allow a change in height via a remote control button mounted on the bike’s handlebar. Not too terribly long ago, dropper posts were a curiosity, and one that didn’t work too well at that. But times–particularly in cycling equipment–change quickly, and dropper posts are nearly as ubiquitous as 29″ wheels on cross country rigs and discs brakes on, well, everything.
To get the low down on the best dropper posts out there, we sat down with the Lamar store’s service manager James Mullins.
“The whole reason to run a dropper post on your bike,” says James, “is because it removes the need for the rider to make awkward body movements to navigate difficult terrain. Instead of using body english to get out of the way of a rigid seat post as you ride a rocky descent, the dropper post simply gets out of the rider’s way.”
When it comes to technical descents or tight, turn-strewn trails, as James explains it, a dropper post allows a rider to lower their center of gravity by lowering their saddle on the fly, and then as the trail smooths out, return the saddle to it’s proper height for maximum pedaling efficiency.
“I’ll be honest, I never used it when I first got it,” says James. “Well, I would use it at red lights so I could easily put my feet down as I waited to continue my ride to the trail or over to the shop,” he says with a laugh. “Then one day, I was on the trial and came upon a tight, high-speed turn, hit the button and dropped the saddle, and had the ‘eureka’ moment. Now I’m on the trial and I’m looking for areas where it might be useful,” explains James.
James and other MTB-riding staff members generally see folks interested in two posts. One is from KS Suspension–The LEV–and the other is the increasingly popular Specialized Command Post IRcc. “From an operational point of view, they work the same way,” explains James. “A remote switch on the bar activates a cable that when the rider’s weight is on the saddle lowers it a given amount, and then when the button is activated again without the rider seated, raises the saddle back up to a pre-determined height.”
What sets the Specialized apart is two things–price and serviceability. “The Specialized is becoming more popular because of it’s price, for sure,” says James.” At $349.99 it’s less than the KS Suspension LEV, which sells for $439.99. “But there are loads of times where folks pay more for clearly better equipment, so it’s not just price,” notes James. The Specialized Command Post is fully serviceable in shop. Like a suspension fork or a rear shock, a dropper post needs regular maintenance for proper operations. “Specialized has really upped their game here with a recommended service interval of 70 hours of use and parts that are readily available. No more sending your dropper post off for routine care,” James says with a wide grin.
As we walk the sales floor it’s amazing just how many bikes come with a dropper post. “Nearly all of the Specialized MTB’s seem to come with them, certainly the higher-end full suspensions bikes, the new 6Fattie bikes, and even the Epic,” says James. “Every trail rider can benefit from a dropper post in that it makes the ride experience that much better and lets cyclists concentrate on finding and holding clean lines.”
That’s something we’d raise a seat post to and cheers.