Monday, May 11, 2009

It wasn’t a rock, it was a Rock Lobster…

Paul Sadoff the master builder of Rock Lobster fame www.rocklobstershop. built my first cross bike. It was part of a fleet of steel school bus yellow Rock Lobsters that swarmed the courses of Surf City in Santa Cruz in the early ‘90s. I think I got one of the last ones of that batch…in part I think because one of my friends Willy called me at the last minute to get my order in. It was slightly too big for me and I was heckled severely by Mr Black Socks for having too little seatpost showing but I loved it. That bike was my gateway drug into what is now a full scale addiction to handbuilt bicycles.

The old (I hate saying that term) team bikes were made of steel. Paul’s more modern bikes are made of aluminum. I’ve been on steel bikes for a decade or more. Last season when I was itching to try get a new cross frame I was hit with a wave of Nostalgia…Why not go back to where it started? I called Paul who lives and races in Santa Cruz, California. He remembered me from way back and we hit it off. He is a true master of his craft and is a teacher, musician and racer. His cross race team is one of the biggest and coolest around. Doesn’t hurt that they are on gorgeous sea foam green Rock Lobsters that are built with one thing in mind racing cross.

In my talks with Paul I realized a lot of what I thought I knew about cross bikes was not really up to date. Paul is one of the coolest builders to work with. From 3,000 miles a way I was able to email him numbers and then basically say build me what you would build for the team. It is by far the best cross frame I have ever ridden. Its everything you want a cross bike to be-great power transfer, awesome cornering, light. and doesn’t scare you in the technical bits.

I get a lot of questions about the bike and he was so great explaining everything that I have enough knowledge of the bike to be dangerous. But I wanted to ask Paul himself just what makes this tick. There is a lot of mastery hidden behind the killer welds and beefy tubes. Below is a quick Q&A that Paul so graciously took the time to answer. The two points I will make. Downtube cable routing makes so much more sense on a race bike. It makes front shifting so much better and doesn’t pack up mud down at the stay/bb juncture. And aluminum does not beat you up. My Rock Lobster is arguably more comfortable road riding than my steel race bike….

Vcb: What defines a Rock Lobster cross bike? ie what makes the bike ride sooo well on a cross course?

A Rock Lobster 'cross bike is made to be ridden fast without being scary and/or sketchy. Another consideration is the stiffness in the rear triangle to make for a better feeling of power transfer during all of the constant accelerations during a race. The center of gravity is low, making for a more stable feel in or out of the saddle.

Vcb: Why is aluminum such a great material for cross?

Aluminum has the advantage of stiffness and impact strength at a light weight. Since it is metal and not a composite it can withstand side impacts with less chance of serious damage. The increased wall thickness makes the frame resistant to crumpling in a frontal impact such as colliding with a barrier or another rider.

Vcb: Tell me about some of the details that give the Team Tig such mojo? The low bb, the downtube cable routing, the geometry?

The Team Tig is really a culimnation of over 20 years of 'cross bike building and listening to top riders. The cable routing and frame geometry were initially a way to make 'cross bikes that could keep up with mountain bikes on the earlier more technical courses. The downtube routed fr. der. cable was a solution to a mud-buildup problem caused by the fr. der. cable pulley used in the top routing-also the need for an extra long non-standard fr. der. cable was eliminated

Vcb: How has the modern cross rider position changed?

I think that top tubes have gotten a little longer and the rider is a little more centered between the wheels. Bars may be a taste higher so that control can be maintained in hard braking steep downhill situations.

Vcb: How long have you had a team and how many riders do you currently have on the roster?

Our team is starting it's 6th season this fall. I believe we have around 30 riders at this time, give or take a few. We have a core group of 2 women and 6 men that make up our elite 'factory' team.

Vcb: You made a big jump in your own racing last year what secret training did you do to achieve this?

I attribute a lot of my race success last season to the fact that I downgraded from the 45+ A category to the 45+ B's an easier group. Also, I was not injured at the beginning of the season like the season before and I trained on the road at elevation for two weeks in July while I was teaching a class in Ashland, Oregon. I'll be doing the same this August. I'm turning 55 next year so this is my last year in this age group and I am the oldest one so I'll have to really up my game. Training with the team once a week in Aug-sept. is a huge benefit for me

Vcb: You are obviously a believer in the power of the mustache do you feel the mustache played a role in last seasons success and do you plan on growing it back?

The mustache is gone......I'll have to excel on non-mustache related merits

Vcb: Where do you see cross now as opposed to 10 years ago?

'Cross is bigger now and there are many more women at the races. Courses are faster and there are more races covering a longer part of the calendar. It used to be that everything was over before you can race into February.

Vcb: What do you love most about cross?

I really like the community in cyclocross and the fact that everyone gets appreciation from the crowd no matter where thye finish. I like the fact that the worse the weather is , the better the race becomes.

Vcb: You've traveled across the country and seen all the different cross scenes are there huge differences or is it all just one big cross family?

I think that there are several large enclaves of 'cross in the US and they each have their own distinct personality but when you get a lot of these folks together at a big U.C.I race or the nationals , it's pretty much about the day rather than any one group being superior to another.

Vcb: Are top mount brake levers dead?

Top Mount levers are not dead to some but hardly anyone on our team is using them. When Paul Components stops making them, that's a sign that they might be irrelevant soon

Vcb: Do you step through?

Some times I do, as long as I'm not feeling too clutzy........I don't think about it unless I'm practicing for the most part. I'm not technically very good so I'll do whatever I think is safest at the time.

Vcb: Your team is one of the coolest around what do you attribute to this?

The team is great because of the team , the sponsors , all of the personalities associated with it. Way more people are influential in the team's inner workings than what is the norm.....most of the time I think of myself as a member of the team , not as anyone with any more control of it than anyone else. I do build the bikes and provide some support here and there but these folks on the team are very good at taking care of themselves for the most part. Lots of folks are really more helpful than I am ! It's humbling and it makes me want to do more for them every season.


1 comment:

  1. Cool interview Chip. It is nice to get perspective from an aluminum frame builder. And props to Rock Lobster for their 'cross support.