Just as we’ve been doing for the last decade, in each March issue of RBA we always take time to gather our thoughts and combine a year’s worth of notable moments and products worth remembering. With that said, welcome to our annual review of the good, the bad and the ugly without forgetting the fun, the fast and the inspiring. For the first installment, Zap will take the first pull before Troy and David chime in with their annual nods.
BEST ROAD BIKE THAT FEW CAN AFFORD:
Trust me, I take no satisfaction in naming one of the best bikes I rode in 2021 as one that had a retail price of $14,500. Regardless of knowing that the definition of “expensive” is relative, not only do I think paying that kind of money for a bicycle is dumb, but, try as I did to make sense of the price, I could never get the math to pencil out.
“All creature comforts aside, the most noteworthy attribute of all, and the one that’s hardest to affix an actual value to, is the bike’s handling.”
Be that as it may, over the years hundreds of test bikes have rolled through the halls of RBA’s well-lit, plushly carpeted, palatial towers only to be rolled out and ridden by one test rider or another. And of all those bikes, the latest fruit from a family tree that was touted as “great” by everyone who ever rode it was the Pinarello Dogma F. The shapely Italian bike attracted admiring looks and opinions wherever it rolled. It is a wow factor bike in every respect – and it’s no wonder that year after Team Ineos stays on them.
BEST ROAD BIKE THAT MORE PEOPLE CAN AFFORD (OR BEST REASON TO NOT AUTOMATICALLY DISTRUST TRI GEEKS):
Going as far back as when Greg LeMond first popularized handlebar extensions in 1989 with the Boone Lennon-designed Scott clip-ons, I’ve never been a fan of handlebar extensions. As such, solely through guilt by association, I’ve always been skeptical of triathletes given their inherent reliance on said “plumbing fixtures.”
So, when the folks at (legacy tri-geek brand) Quintana Roo offered us a SRFive road bike to test, I was less than optimistic about thinking nice things about the bike. I was wrong. The QR ended up being one of my most enjoyable test bikes in 2021. Starting with a reasonable frameset price of $2399, our complete bike priced out at $5535. Best of all is that QR (under the same American Bicycle Group that owns Litespeed and Obed) assembles the bikes in America and offers customers a wealth of build-your-own options and colors.
WORST DAY FOR PRO BIKE RACERS: September 5, 2021. That was the day that, like us, they likely heard that Patrick Cantlay was awarded $15 million for hitting a little white ball around a golf course at the Fed Ex Cup. And yes, he had someone carry his clubs for him.
BEST CUSTOM BIKE NOT BUILT FOR ME:
It was a test mule originally cobbled together by Italian frame builder Michele Favaloro with a randomly sized aluminum frame built with a leftover Campagnolo Chorus road drivetrain and Campy disc brakes.
Given Michele’s renown as a custom builder, some thought the gravel bike was built just for me, but it wasn’t. In fact, it couldn’t have been, because RBA has a policy of not testing custom-built bikes with personalized geometry.
And yet, the Favaloro ended up being my favorite go-to bike for both dirt and road pursuits. Surprisingly, the Campy road parts took many a dirt bike beating and never cried, “Foul.” Although I never found any use for it, Michele’s cabling of the left-side shifter to activate the dropper post was pretty novel.
If the Favaloro (RBA, May ’21) proved anything, it was that aluminum bikes can still make for a good ride and that good custom builders know how to build good bikes, even if they aren’t custom built for you.
THE MOST DISPIRITING BIKE-INDUSTRY EFFORT (OR, WHEN BEING COOL IS THE SAME THING AS BEING DUMB):
What’s with the seeming quest of so many brands to outdo one another by producing the most expensive (over-priced?) bikes possible? As if paying $14,000 for a mass-produced WorldTour replica from the likes of Specialized and Trek isn’t hard enough to comprehend, how about $28,900 for a Louis-Vuitton single-speed city bike?!
Made by Maison Tamboite, a little-known, artisanal Paris-based bike maker, “The bicycles are a symbol of French craftsmanship and Parisian chic.” In addition to the nods to Louis-Vuitton’s heritage, which now includes an ownership stake in Pinarello, the bike features “airless tires, shock absorbers, LED lights, and the infamous LV logo to allow you to feel safe and cool.”
BEST PAINT THAT MIGHT MAKE CUSTOM PAINTERS NERVOUS:
Simply put, we were blown away when we pulled our Cervelo Aspero 5 test bike (RBA, July ’21) out of the box and found it slathered in one of the most detailed and eye-catching finishes we’ve ever seen on a production bike.
JUST SO VULNERABLE: As if our daily routes weren’t sketchy enough, there was Deceuninck Quick Step’s Pieter Serry getting rear-ended by a BikeExchange team car just seven miles from the Stage 6 summit finish at the Giro. Wow!
MOST WELCOMED NEWBIES: It was great seeing Rebecca Rusch include a “para” class for physically challenged cyclists competing in her Rebecca’s Private Idaho gravel race. This is a class of athletes whose representation in the sport we should definitely support and promote.
WORST USE OF “REVOLUTIONARY” HYPERBOLE: Not since Trek grossly oversold the “revolutionary” benefits of their heavy and hot WaveCel helmet in 2019 has another brand followed along in such hype-filled footsteps. But there was the Hammerhead Karoo computer being touted not just as a revolution in cycling tech but, instead, the revolution in cycling tech. Not even close and not even with Chris Froome acting as a pitchman.
BEST PANACEA FOR THE WHITE PLAGUE:
It’s an annual complaint, but what’s with all the white shoes used by too many WorldTour riders. And so, you can imagine how thrilled I was when Sidi released the Jimi Hendrix-inspired, limited-edition version, their Sixty shoe. Better still was when FDJ/Groupama rider David Gaudu wore them during the Tour de France.
WHEN THE SPIRIT OF REDEMPTION PROVES MISTAKEN:
Despite having failed nine doping tests over the previous 12 years, the second-tier Vini Zabu team (above) was invited to last year’s Giro d’Italia. Alas, just days before the race, start-team rider Matteo De Bonis tested positive for EPO, forcing the team to pull out from the race.
THE CRACK HEARD ’ROUND THE WORLD: With 300 meters to go at the Tour of Flanders, Mathieu van der Poel was on his way to a celebratory repeat win when, in the midst of a pedal-to-pedal duel with Kasper Asgreen and with less than 100 meters to go, MVDP’s head simply dropped down as he hit empty and was dropped by his
MOST OVERRATED RACE: Hyped as “one of the world’s biggest races” with some of the “world’s fastest riders,” the Lion’s Den Criterium in Sacramento, California, was, in fact, neither. Yes, the $100,000 purse (split between the men’s and women’s fields) was no doubt a lucrative haul, but it takes more than a rich, one-day race filled with less than world-caliber riders to achieve the real-world relevance it sought to achieve.
BEST PLACE TO SIT – MY TWO FAVE SADDLES:
For the 2021 season there were two saddles that won me over, each distinctive in their own way. The first was the new 156-gram Adaptive saddle from Fizik that uses 3D print technology to create its perforated top surface. While our test model arrived with a lightly colored notice-me top to accentuate its unique construction, Fizik eventually came out with an all-black version. The fit and feel were both unlike, and better than, any other long saddle I rode last year.
Although I’ve remained a slow convert to short saddles, the iridescent purple, Italian-made, 175-gram Selle San Marco ShortFit Racing Wide proved to be as eye-catching and comfortable as it was stout in length.
THE DAY THE EARTH DIDN’T STOP SPINNING:
That would be September 20, 2021, when the Ineos team made the official announcement that they would finally join the modern world by making the switch to disc brakes. As the old saying goes, better late than never.
BEST GRAVEL BIKE:
Just as I feel funny touting a $15,000 road bike as a “best,” so, too, does calling a consumer-direct bike the “best” given that its no-middleman cost savings played such a role in shaping my decision. Still, while the big American brands spent so much energy battling for bike-shop superiority over the years, Canyon looked into the future and devised a new-world business model to which they are now the undisputed leader.
And when it came to dual-purpose bikes, with its three bottle mounts, stout carbon frame, Shimano GRX drivetrain, room for up to 45mm tires and a suspension seatpost, the $3200 Canyon Grizl CF SL 8 simply delivered more gravel good for the dollar than any other bike.
BEST EXAMPLE OF DOING WHAT WE TELL PEOPLE NOT TO DO: TADEJ GETS CROSS-CHAINED
No different than the advice we give to never take your hands off the handlebars, we can often be heard telling people to not get cross-chained (big ring to big cassette). But then there was eventual Tour de France winner Tadej Pogacar doing just that as he pedaled away up a long climb to claim a victory in Stage 6.
WORST CALAMITOUS MASS INJURY THAT NEVER OCCURRED:
With all the pro teams now using disc brakes and all the massive multi-rider crashes that took place in last year’s Tour de France, surely that would help prove the protest originally made by team Movistar rider Fran Ventoso in 2018 that the rotating rotors should’ve been banned from racing due to their obvious role in causing serious injury in crash settings. Of course, none of that ever occurred, as it was just another wildly inflated and wielded canard of old-school opposition to new (and better) technology.
THE WILD PELOTON SWING (OR, THE KIND OF MARKET VALUE THAT MOST BIKE BRANDS WOULD HATE TO LOSE BUT STILL DREAM OF HAVING): In September I read reports that the indoor cycling brand was planning to go big by building a 200-acre factory at a cost of $400 million with a plan to hire 2000 workers. Great! Unfortunately, less than two months later, the NY Times reported that “shares of Peloton Interactive plunged 35.3 percent, wiping off about $9.2 billion in market value.” Ouch!
BEST RACE RESULT FOR OLD GUYS: It had to be Stage 6 of the Critérium du Dauphiné when some 41-year-old from Spain (aka Alejandro Valverde) dusted the kids to take a win. And then, oh yeah, the overall win went to 36-year-old Richie Porte. By the way, the wily Spaniard has said that the 2022 season will finally be his last.
BEST WAY TO WIN: ARMAUD DEMARE
For Groupama/FDJ rider Arnaud Demare the 2021 season was all pretty much a wash of dismal performances. That is, until the day the Frenchman dueled to the end to win Paris Tour. Beyond the win providing a needed sauve for a forgettable year, what made it especially worthy was that he finished arms-up with his parents and grandparents at the finish. As always, it’s all about family! Photo: Jan De Meuleneir/PN/BettiniPhoto©2021
BEST TEAM EFFORT: SEA OTTER CLASSIC
Originally founded as a mountain bike race in 1991, for every year since the Sea Otter Classic has been the doing the heavy lifting for American cycling by hosting thousands of racers and industry expo tents through both good weather and bad as well as the occasional pandemic. Last year, following their purchase of Dirty Kanza/Unbound 200, Life Time swooped in and brought the decades old and now world-wide event under their corporate umbrella with plans to make it even better (a gravel race?!). Okay, maybe all it took to break up the band was a big check cut by Life Time, but I’m hoping the crew (including (L to R): Madison Giger, Jeff Frost, Sarah Timleck, Kathy Giger, the O.G. Frank Yohannan, Jeannie Retamoso, Zeph Despard, and our beloved media caretaker Holly Colson) will hang around. They have worked hard and carried the bike industry well…and for that we should all be grateful. See you this April for another round of fun.
SILLIEST PRODUCT (or best product in search of need)
With a goal of allowing you to “Change in public and keep your privates, private,” the Changing Poncho from Pedal Industries nonetheless seems like the silliest use of $50–$70. Maybe they’ve never heard of using a towel to cover up? Making it seem even sillier, the promo video shows a guy using his poncho while standing outside of a massive Sprinter van. What, he couldn’t just change inside?!
THE CHOICE QUOTES
MOST WARRANTED USE OF AN EXPLETIVE (AND RIDER OF THE YEAR NOD): When pressed to explain his feelings after winning his first Tour de France stage in years, Mark Cavendish had but one word: “F#@$. Oh, sorry!”
STUPID IS AS STUPID DOES: “[Pro] riders shouldn’t suffer for the stupidity of people at home!” —Christian Vande Velde, Stage 6 of Paris-Nice.
A MATTER OF PRIORITIES: “It seems like there are a lot of other pressing safety concerns that the UCI could focus on.” —Bob Roll on the UCI’s ban of the super-tuck position.
THE IRONY OF COVID: “It’s odd. I’ve never seen so many people enjoying such good sales figures still looking so glum!” —Another keen observation by Gerard Vroomen as the bike industry simultaneously enjoyed record sales and product shortfalls amid the pandemic.
BEST GOVERNMENT ENDORSEMENT OF CYCLING: “If you just get to a certain tipping point, and it’s not much—about 2 percent in terms of the rate of people who commute to work by bike—you tend to see steep changes in terms of safety, probably because motorists are more conscious and aware of people on bicycles as a matter of routine, so it’s just building up that culture of cycling.
“I come from an auto-making part of the country, and we’re proud of it, but we can definitely be more of a bicycling country.” —U.S. Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg at the annual League of American Bicyclists National Bike Summit.
BEST PROOF THAT THERE ARE WORSE THINGS FOR GRAVEL RACING THAN HAVING FORMER PRO ROAD RACERS SHOW UP:
“These are my A races now. This is its own legitimate discipline. We are creating our own discipline, and I’m so proud to be a part of it. This is fun. Now I get to have beers with 4000 of my friends.” —Former road pro Peter Stetina further proving why he is one of the best things to happen to gravel in a while.
A DAUGHTER’S GOODBYE: “My dad took his final ride home in the Big Sugar gravel bike race last Saturday, October 23 in Bentonville, Arkansas. His name was Tommy O’Neal, and he was amazing. He lived in Georgetown, Texas. He was on vacation with his sister and signed up for the bike ride. My dad died doing what he loved to do and died happy at the young age of 72 years old. I’m so proud of my dad and who he was. Somewhere in the Ozarks his
spirit is soaring. May he soar in the hearts of all who loved him as well. To know Tommy was to love Tommy.”