Call us hopeless romantics or biased Europhiles, but whatever the reason, for us there remains something special about the cycling wares that enjoy European branding. Without taking anything away from the bikes and parts from more contemporary brands, for me it’s the company history that so many European brands enjoy that I find so fascinating.
You have to admit that any company—no matter what the industry—that is still producing their original product 100 years later is pretty impressive. Selle Italia, Michelin, Columbus, Wilier-Triestina, Peugeot and Brooks qualify with brands like Campagnolo, Mavic, LaPierre and among others, all edging awfully close to the century-old mark.
And, they’ve earned our respect not just because they’re old brands, but that they’ve continued to evolve with modern versions of their core products with all the performance we expect of the most modern bikes and parts.
Even though the constraints of the modern economy have forced much of Europe’s legacy of small-shop craftsmanship away from their borders, in some small way, they still represent a big piece of cycling history that we have no intention of letting go.
WHAT IS COLD?
Having spent a few winters living in Wisconsin, I can legitimately say that I know what it’s like to ride in cold weather. Despite the popular Wisco’ adage that “there’s no such thing as bad weather, just bad dress,” I still recall being so overdressed on those chilly winter days that I was barely able to move my extremities—and that was before I stepped outside!
Having returned to the sunny climes of the Golden State, I assure you that I know better than to ever refer to winter rides here in SoCal as anything more than “California cold” rides. Still, on a few occasions when we’ve rolled out for the morning Montrose ride, the temperatures have hovered in the upper 30s and low 40s. While that may still qualify as warm to cyclists in North Dakota, I know my fingers were in pain as I pedaled to the start.
The thing that makes most of our California cold rides perplexing is that you can guarantee that by the time the group ride rolls into Sierra Madre, the temps have usually risen to a wholly comfortable mid-50 mark. And that’s where the rule to “dress for the finish” makes choosing the right gear difficult.
This was always a truism at Levi’s Gran Fondo where it would be bitter cold in the morning darkness but gloriously sunny at the finish—and the last thing you wanted was to be weighed down with excess clothing. I remember shaking my head, as I shook in the cold, seeing people line up with hoodies and ski gloves. Not the right dress for a 100-mile gran fondo with plenty of climbing!
For these last winter months my anti-cold wardrobe would consist of Defeet arm warmers, Shimano Sphyre base layer, Gore Windstopper leggings, Troy Lee Air gloves and a Mavic Altium vest. Halfway through the ride I would usually store the vest and gloves—perfecto! On the really, really cold days, it would be my Rosti thermal jacket—and, yes, there was a measurable difference in warmth.
Riding in the cold isn’t fun, but the chill does bring with it a certain kind of pleasurable experience. Sure, I know our SoCal version of “going Belgian” is laughable to cyclists with real winters, but we’re trying!
A VESTIGE OF WARMTH
With all this talk of winter rides, I couldn’t let this talk of staying warm pass without paying homage to the usefulness of the simple garment known as a vest. And in all my years of riding bikes, there have been two—both from Euro brands—that have meant the most to me.
The first was a gray camo Castelli vest once worn by Italian mountain biker Paola Pezzo in the late ’90s. With both Olympic and world champion crowns to her credit, Pezzo was an international icon whose celebrity as a racer was additionally fueled by her sense of head-turning fashion flair. That vest introduced me to Gore’s Windstopper material, which I became an instant fan of.
In the last five years it’s been my super-lightweight Mavic vest that has traveled the world with me. Even without any specific wind-stopping fabric, the Mavic vest has made the difference between surviving a cold ride and calling it quits.
As much of a fan as I am of vests, I can be quick to turn against them when used inappropriately. Coincidentally, it was on one of my recent cold Montrose rides that I came up with the following two tips when it comes to wearing a vest: 1. If you’re on a group ride and wearing a vest, either wear it zipped up or stow it. There’s nothing worse than riding in tight formation and having some guy’s vest flapping in the breeze like a loosened spinnaker sail. 2. If you sit up to stow it, it’s best to pull outside the group to avoid any swerving or unforeseen entanglements.
From the May 2020 issue