Friday, February 22, 2013


Winter riding to me is one of the best times of year to ride. This may sound crazy to someone who lives in Northern California whose idea of cold is 40 degrees. I spent a few summers in SF and when they would pull out the full North Face parka because it was "cold" I used to just shake my head and laugh inside. Being a fairly crusty New Englander I may have muttered a few less than flattering things under my breath. The point is winter riding doesn't have to be something to be feared or dreaded. And you don't have to sit on a trainer for 3 hours watching episode after episode of Breaking Bad. To me its a Zen like experience. Everything slows down. You have to accept the Buddhist principal that "Life is Suffering." To me the suffering you may endure riding through a New England winter is the "right" type of suffering. The type that reminds you that you are alive. You feel cold. What you do with that feeling is where the Zen comes in. Its easy to retract like a child when they put their finger too close to a fire. Or you can just accept it and say ok I am cold. Then let it pass. What you get for your "suffering" can not be measured. Riding slows down. Some of it may be because of the cold or the roads are icy and there isn't much of a shoulder because of the 3 foot high snow banks. Safety is an issue. So you slow down and ride with a sense of purpose that maybe you don't during summer. The roads are less crowded with other cyclists, joggers, dog walkers and even drivers. During winter in New England people tend to slow down. They cocoon a bit so we get more space on the roads than in summer.

Winter riding has always been a big part of what HUP is all about. Yes we are a cyclocross racing team first and foremost. That will never change but when cross season ends its like a switch flips and we pull our road bikes out or put slicks on the cross bike. We add fenders with mudflaps. We dig out the wool and the layers. So much of winter riding is a sort of DIY affair. I love all the weird homemade mudflaps you see on winter bikes. I love seeing people rocking scarves or modifying wool hats to act as neck muffs. You do what you have to do to ride safe and to be warm. My own kids mock me about how long it takes me to get out the door for a ride in winter. But I love it. It is a self selecting pursuit similar to big wave surfing. That may be a stretch to some but I see it. I have nothing against the droves of cyclists who emerge from their winter hibernation at the first warm spring weekend. And I love how much cycling has grown in the last couple of years. But it can get pretty crazy out there. Casual cyclists do not ride in winter. I hate the whole hardman/hardwoman thing. Its silly. We do this as a hobby and cause we love cycling not because we are tough. I like all the preparation that goes into winter riding. But it takes it toll on the bikes. And a lot of times modifying a cross bike or road bike for dedicated riding is less than optimal. I like clip on fenders but they aren't that nice. And they can slip.

I can't count the amount of times I have had conversations with my friends about how cool it would be to have a winter bike. We go over all that it would be and how it would ride. It would need to be steel. It would need to be able to handle any road or condition. Full fenders with mudflaps are a must. Big gears. Lots of tire clearance. Bomb proof and reasonably light. And then the conversation quickly turns to the types of rides we would take it on. Rapha Gentleman's Rides, D2R2, gravel rides. That is also one of the joys of winter riding. Its very conversational. No one is on a "training" plan the rides are more social. So you have time to talk about the important things in life like winter bikes!

So when Rob Vandermark of Honey asked me what bikes HUP would like for the HUP Honey Project the first bike I asked for was a winter bike. My good friend Roger loves gravel rides and has been focusing a lot on brevet style randos. The description of what we'd like the winter bike to be was basically a dream bike scenario. Winter bike meets do everything bike. We didn't really know what to expect. What is so amazing about working with Rob is you can give him a concept or vision and he just runs with it and produces something way beyond your expectations. Rob asked me some questions over the course of the production cycle but was pretty secretive about what the bike would look like. At the launch party for the bikes at the Ride Studio Cafe the one bike everyone couldn't stop talking about was the Winterando. It really was the embodiment of the bike so many of us have dreamt of.

Roger talked with Rob about the bike and they did a fit. The timing for the "test" ride was perfect. Mo Bruno Roy invited us all on a birthday ride to celebrate her husband Matt's 40th called the Ronde de Roy 40. Most test rides for bikes involve the sales person adjusting saddle height and sending you out into the parking lot and telling you not to get it dirty. How can you test ride a bike without taking it on an actual ride? Its actually not possible. You need to take a bike on a ride that mirrors your intended use. No other way to see if the bike works for you and what you want to do with it. Taking a bike you have never ridden on a 50+ mile group ride in a snow storm on icy roads has disaster written all over it. I assumed Roger would have to stop and adjust the bike every 5 minutes. He never stopped once. He was at the front all day. The bike fit him like it was a bike he'd had for years. After an hour I forgot he'd never ridden the bike before and would just follow his line through all the potholes and ice berms.

Visually the bike is stunning. No other way to say it.  We have big plans for this bike. Or Roger does. I am hoping to tag along on a lot of these adventures in the coming months. On Saturday, April 6th at 10:00 am we will depart from the Ride Studio to undertake the "Diverged Ride" Its a ride that will showcase just what a versatile bike like the Honey Winterando is all about. All are welcome with the caveat that you must be prepared for what the ride will entail. Its an adventure ride covering 100k of pavement, gravel, dirt and rocks. About 50k unpaved. It sounds like heaven to me.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Smiles per mile

Uncle Ross taught me a few things back in the day. One of the lessons that has stuck with me is that the most important feature of any bicycle is "Smiles Per Mile." Yes, yes I know cycling is serious business. Having fun on a bike isn't right. Cycling should be all about suffer faces and epic rides. My friends remind me every day of what Ross Shafer imparted upon me 20 years ago in a shed in Petaluma, California. And no one. I mean no one puts more smiles per mile in than Matt Roy. Endurance guys are supposed to be weird. Science guys are supposed to be geeks and stick to themselves. Matt Roy is an incredible human being. Smart, funny, talented, tough as nails and just so warm and welcoming. Its been well documented how he took me under his wing right before CX season and spent 5 hours on my cx bike getting it ready to race for the season. He did not have to do that. At all. I am a scrub masters racer on a good day. But he spent the time. And I am forever grateful to him. Matt and Mo are like the CX mom and dad we all wish we had. They foster this community in a way that I really haven't seen before. I love those two. So when Mo sent out an email to the #NECX that we were going to throw Matt a surprise birthday ride I was all over it! 

It was hard to tell what the ride would be like. New England is having a very NE type of winter. One day its 40-50 degrees. The next day we are having a full on blizzard. The Blizzard (Nemo what?) set us back a bit. The trails are under about 1-2 feet of snow. It was to be coined the Ronde Roy 40. Matt was turning 40. Which in itself is staggering. He does not look 40. At all. 30? sure. And it was supposed to be an Irish 40. Hmm Ok. Cross bikes with fenders was the call. We all showed up at the Ride Studio Cafe at 10 am on Matt's B-day. And somehow the internet kept it a SURPRISE! This actually is the greatest accomplishment of the ride. Matt had no idea. When he walked into the Studio and saw 40 of his friends the look on his face was priceless! We all yelled "Happy Birthday Matt" Will Crissman handed me a noise maker and I pulled the rip cord. We may have covered Carrie in streamers. It was a pretty rad mix of a crew. Most of Matt's close riding buddies. David and John. A bunch of the Seven crew. A big Boloco crew. Hup. Thom Parsons and Crissman on singlespeed mountain bikes. Ouch. Will rode over in a snow storm for the ride. On 36x16. And was at the front for most of the ride. Yeah its no shocker why he won DH40 last summer. 5-6 women of the #NECX riding like Rock Stars. This is how all group rides should be. Zero testosterone. Fun. Sticking together. No half wheeling. Conversational pace. What truly boggled my mind is that it was February in New England. We rolled out as the snow was falling. No one complained. No one was fearful. Because we are all friends. And Most of the riders are legit. Riders who race cross and do big gravel rides. Not some sketchy CRW Tuesday Nights World's riders. Solid riders. The fact that we had a bunch of riders on fixed and singlespeeds and we all stayed together for 50 plus miles was again way more smiles per mile. I got to talk with so many people. Caught up with old friends. Made new friends. Okay it wasn't all sunshine and rainbows. Shopengarten somehow even with fenders on his bike covered me with grime by the time we got to Hanscom. Now its not 100% his fault. He did have fenders. I am just a dirt magnet. I had a proper Belgian tan and was happy

All these amazing photos except for the one at the top are by Matt O'Keefe. How he takes such amazing ride photos is beyond me. I tried to take a few but almost died doing so. After that I stuck to the still photography. But every photo you see it. No grimaces. Just smiles. Winter riding has that effect on you. Might seem counterintuitive. I know my California friends look at us and think we are just suffering through winter but we really aren't. I love riding a nice winter bike with fenders. As long as you have the right clothes you really are never "cold". And frankly cold is such a relative term. Once you acclimate 30-40 degree days feel "warm" For the RdR40 it was probably in the 40s. No one was cold. We stopped at a cafe midway through the ride and the looks on the patrons and cashiers faces were classic. You would have thought Visigoths had just come screaming out of the woods and demanded loot. Once we got our story "Birthday Ride" they warmed up to us. Even filling water bottles. And that Acton "muffin" shop had one of the best blueberry scones I have ever tasted.

Matt's good friend John Bayley set the route for the ride. And it was really nice. I don't get to ride North of the Pike much and this was a real treat. Again we had 40 riders on various bikes. We all kept together. Zero flats. Zero mechanicals. That my friends is  impressive. What was equally impressive is this was the maiden voyage for the HUP Honey Winterando. You remember that bike right? It was one of the bikes we collaborated with with Honey for this season. Its one of those concept or dream bikes that real riders think about all the time. Real riders covet a bike like this. Comfortable, performance oriented bike that can take you places. A "do everything" bike if you will. My good friend Roger had the honors. This ride was just the beginning of our adventures with that bike. But what blew my mind was Roger never had to stop and adjust anything. How is that even possible? 50 plus miles. Tight roads. Mixed group and Roger was at the front driving it all day long. So rad.

Such a great day and such a great way to honor a truly great friend. I hope Matt had as much fun on his ride as I did. Happy B-day my friend. No way you are 40. I just don't believe it. Cheers

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Ten Days

Hup United can be a somewhat mysterious bike team. If you dig enough you can find the story. And its a pretty awesome story to say the least. Not a lot of teams have the history we do. Hup began at Seven Cycles. That means a lot even today. There are still a bunch of Hup who work at Seven. One of the original members and my good friend still welds some of the finest bikes on the planet at Seven. So a couple of years ago when Seven's Rob Vandermark and Mike Salvatore approached me about a Hup Honey I didn't even hesitate. Yes was my quick answer and can I have it by September! Honey is a brand championed by Rob. It is separate from Seven but the bikes are built and manufactured at Seven in their Watertown facility. The Honey story is a blog post in itself. Its a great concept and project. One that I feel really strongly about.

These are the types of bikes I love. Simple. Steel. Yes I love steel. Bikes to be ridden. And raced. When we developed the first Hup Honey cross bike we had one goal. Build a cross bike uniquely suited to tackle all the American cross races throw at you. Stable on rough terrain, fast out of corners and confidence inspiring on off cambers. It was one of the best cross racing bikes I have ever ridden or raced. It was also one of the best offroad bikes I have ever tried. In New England we don't limit our cross bikes to the race course. Yeah going all out for 45 minutes on a taped off race course is awesome. But to me what is more beautiful is the ability of a cross bike to handle almost everything. One of my friends calls a cross bike the "Do Everything" bike. This is very true. And at its most basic is perfect for the type of "adventure" riding we do around here. Its awesome to be able to ride from your house on the road and find all kinds of trails in the woods to play on, then pop back out on the road and head to a coffee shop for pastries and good conversation.

I could spend hours talking about why I love steel bikes. So many people today have never had the chance to ride one. Its too bad. But that is all about to change. Steel is making a comeback. It has been fighting back at the high end for a while. The handbuilt show has grown at a level no one thought would have been possible. But steel at its core isn't just about show bikes its about riding all the time. Its about a bike that is built to be ridden not shown off. To use a cliche a bike with a soul. What does that even mean? To me a bike with soul is one that takes you places. Not just in the physical sense but in that you imprint on that bike all the amazing times you have riding that bike. I won't lie, there are times I will go down in my garage and just look at my bikes. And remember the rides. And the good times with friends. But back to the Honey project. That first batch of Blanco Hup Honey's were gorgeous and great riding bikes. Mike S and I talked a bit before this past cross season about making another batch. We had all kinds of ideas. He got me all stoked about doing a murdered out belt drive SSCX with discs. Then CX season went into full gear and it ended up being shelved while we went warp speed for the Fall races. At Ice Weasels Mike and Matt O'Keefe and I spent a lot of time talking more and more about it. Rob called me a bit after that to see if we wanted to do a relaunch of the project and offer a couple of other bikes. I jokingly said why not offer a 29er and a Winter/Rando bike as well. We talked a bit and I sort of assumed we would just redo the original as it was perfect. We reconnected to talk about a party we were planning for Hup/Seven and the Ride Studio. He asked what I thought about doing 5 bikes for the party to show off to the team. The party was ten days away. I cautiously asked him if this was possible. He said yes it was.

I have said it before but its worth saying again. What Rob can do is nothing short of amazing. He operates at a level that I really have never seen before. Brilliant minds are like this. I wonder at times if he even needs sleep. Once I knew we were doing this I got really excited. We had a quick call about some changes to the cross bike. Nothing major. Just a tweak here, a tweak there. Then we talked about the 29er and the Winterrando. We didn't talk about geometry or those things. I know better to leave that to the experts. We talked about the ride. And what these bikes would be for. The types of rides we would take them on. And yes we talked paint schemes. Honey's have traditionally been pretty understated in paint scheme. Which is great. But one of the things that really blew me away with the last Hup Honey project was the paint job. When you give a world class paint shop the green light to do what they do best you get some pretty mind blowing results. We wanted to integrate Hup's kit into each bike to show off the different styles. Hup has a reputation for really nice bike kit. And the translation of those designs to the bikes was amazing. What began as an end of season cross party for good friends became a gallery opening with the bikes as art. Rob, Mike and Matt would send me spy photos of the progress the bikes were making during the week. Each photo got me more and more excited to say the least.

But it can't be overstated to say how much they worked to get these bikes done. They produced five show worthy bikes in 10 days. Two bikes for the Ride Studio team and 3 for Hup. The Ride Studio Team is predominantly a road racing team so they were built two pure road racing machines. The Final 200 Meters is a pure crit and circuit race bike. It is designed to be the fastest bike on the course. Stiff and light with that stable feel steel is legendary for. Both of these bikes have striking race paint schemes with oversized tubing. These bikes were made to be carbon killing machines. Hup United is primarily a cyclocross race team. That is our birthright and that is the core of our mission. Race cross, breathe cross, grow cross. Its like a mantra. But we have grown a lot the last couple of years. We love riding our cross bikes all year round not just racing them. This has evolved to mtn biking. And gravel riding. And singlespeed mountain biking. Why lie we just love all things bike related. So it made sense to design 3 bikes that reflect who we are. Three Honey's were designed for Hup, a 29er, a Winterrando and of course a cross machine.

I had a general idea what the bikes would look like. But Rob and the crew kept them under wraps and promised a big splash at the party. Frankly I was too busy trying to get all the things for the party on my end. Guest lists, beer, making sure everything was set. If you have never been to one of the Ride Studio parties you are missing out. The RSC has become the hub for cycling culture in Boston. The parties are always a who's who of cycling. Its always a great time meeting old friends and making new ones. They go all out and all feel welcomed and have a great time. But the second I walked into this party it felt different. It was more like walking into a gallery opening than a bike shop party. The bikes were all on display and people were looking at each of them like works of art. To say that Rob, Mike and Matt and the whole team blew everyone's minds is an understatement. Each bike was taken so far it was incredible. And not in the handbuilt show manner where the bike is visually appealing but not a bike you could ride. These bikes were the pinnacle of their design objective. I don't know if I could pick one that stole the show. For me the Winterrando bike caught my eye and held me captivated. You could just sense all the possibilities with that bike.

And of course as a cross fanatic I kept coming back to the cross bike. The paint job frankly was off the charts. And all the little details were there. I frankly was bummed cx season was over. I wanted to take it out and get it covered in mud and slam it into some corners. The 29er was a thing of beauty. 29ers have totally changed how I ride a mountain bike. The Honey 29er had the new SRAM XX1 and just was calling my name. The party was a huge success. So many people came away stoked to ride bikes. Which in the end of the day is what it should be all about. I am really excited to see where the Honey project goes. Cross is having a huge effect on cycling right now. People are calling it the "Gateway Drug" and for good reason. You have so much fun during cross season you want to keep that feeling going all year round. Cross season is short. Riding season should be 365/24/7. Cross is bringing people to road riding and road racing as well as bringing a lot of riders into mountain biking.

I don't even know how I am going to decide between one of these bikes. As Honey is intended I am not even thinking about the bike but the riding itself. I think of how sick it would be to take the 200 meters bike out and just put in tons of miles on the road. And then I think of the Ronde de Rosey and IronCross and want the cx bike. Its a good problem to have I think. Huge thanks to Rob, Mike, Matt, Patria, Seven, Hup, Honey and the Ride Studio for such a great evening!