Sunday, March 30, 2008

Framebuilder of Trust: My Visit to Cycles Marinoni

Ten years ago, in May 1998, I drove to Cycles Marinoni in Lachenaie, on the outskirts of Montreal, and ordered my first high-end bicycle, a Marinoni Ciclo made with Columbus Brain oversized steel tubing and outfitted with Campagnolo Athena components. This is bicycle is the first Tin Donkey and with it I toured Spain, Italy, Germany, Switzerland, Belgium and Holland, as well as Virginia, Maryland and Colorado. After my big touring years, I began to race a bit and the Marinoni, with its triple chainring setup, was not really suitable for this but even after I switched to more modern equipment–first a Lemond Maillot Jaune, and then my current Specialized S-Works Tarmac E5–I still enjoyed the perfect fit and the smooth ride of the Marinoni. And in spite of the extra weight of steel, the triple chainring and comfortable geometry and very smooth ride made it my choice for long rides with lots of mountains, including the Swiss Alps, the French Alps and, in Virginia, the Mountains of Misery.

Ciclo in the bike compartment of a Deutsche Bahn train

After more than 25,000 kms of riding, the Ciclo was beginning to look pretty scruffy. The gorgeous British Racing Green paint had numerous scruffs and dents, including a pretty big one in the top tube from my second trip to Mallorca where I went over the handlebars and had to get a taxi back to the hotel. The dent was from the taxi transport rather than the crash. There were scrapes on the top tube as well from when the bike fell over from a badly-designed bike rack in Italy and marks from travelling on German trains as old cyclotourists used to let their big Hercules upright touring bikes crash around in the bike compartment when they boarded and, of course, they always seemed to hit my bike. There were a lot of stone chips along the bottom of the downtube–all of this “experience” reminded me of my trips but, on the other hand, the bike was no longer looking like the beautiful example of the framebuilder’s art it had once been. I knew that Marinoni offered repainting services, so with my return to Canada it was time to take the Ciclo back to the place of its birth for a rebirth, so to speak.

Cycles Marinoni began in 1974. Giuseppe Marinoni, now 72, raced on the Italian national team in the 1960s. After meeting Simone, a Québecoise, during a team trip to La Belle Province, he moved to Canada, getting married and continuing a successful amateur racing career. He began to wind down the racing and started building some frames, including several used during the Montreal Olympics in 1976. He became a “framebuilder of trust,” supplying many North American riders with bikes labelled with the names of other manufacturers. Apparently Beth Heiden won the Women’s World Championship race in 1980 on a disguised Marinoni, and Connie Carpenter-Phinney won a gold medal at the 1984 Olympics on another one. Andy Hampsten, Bob Roll, Steve Bauer and a host of others used Marinonis at some point in their career, but you would never know this from the company since Cycles Marinoni is not exactly on the cutting-edge of product promotion. In fact, they do not advertise and they don’t sponsor pro teams at a visible level either. When I bought the Ciclo, they did not have any marque jerseys available or any other accessories.

The advantage of not spending a lot on promotion (well, nothing, to be precise) is that costs are kept to a minimum and the savings are passed on to the buyer. Cycles Marinoni is the Canadian importer for a number of European products, including Campagnolo and Vredestrein, so you get a good price when these go onto your bicycle. The other thing that makes Cycles Marinoni stand out is the custom painting on offer: unlike the usual one or two colours offered by most manufacturers, Marinoni offers 38 different hues and will pretty much paint the bike anyway that you want. Simone is the paint expert and Marinonis are famous for their finishes. The workmanship is clean and elegant, without being overly fussy.

After dismantling the Ciclo completely, I cleaned up the frame a bit and put it into the car. It was a 2 ½ hour drive along the Trans-Canada Highway from Ottawa to Montreal, and then heading north and east to Lachenaie. The very modest Cycles Marinoni building is located in a small industrial park, and in ten years it does not seem to have changed at all. On this sunny, but very cold, Saturday the small parking lot was full and I had to park on the street. I walked in with the frame and looked around.

Compared to 1998, there were some changes inside. The factory also has a retail operation and there were a lot of shoes and helmets, along with racks of the latest Marinoni models and Campagnolo wheels. Immediately off the entrance was a room where a bike was set up on a stand for fittings. I had gone through this process when I bought the Ciclo a decade ago and have never ceased to be amazed by how well it fits me. There is a true advantage in having a custom fit that is apparent from the first turn of the pedals, but even more obvious as you are getting into the last stages of a 200 km marathon ride.

I walked around with my frame while other customers were being served, and then Simone, for it was she, came over and asked what I would like to do with the frame. I explained that we had corresponded by e-mail and I just wanted it to look like it did when I bought it: same colour, same graphics if possible. Cycles Marinoni has changed the script it uses on its current bikes but the old one is still available, although the headtube logo is not. The colours will be pretty much the same–British Racing Green with Sahara lettering–and my name will still be on the frame (although Simone had some trouble spelling it out on the order form). The project will take either two or three weeks and the bike will be shipped back to me for rebuilding. Cost of refinishing in one colour is a very reasonable $145, plus additional charges for repairs (my top tube dent), and removal and reinstallation of the headset if necessary. Multiple colours and custom schemes will obviously be more but it seems like a bargain to me.

I looked around at the bikes currently available. There are no longer any lugged steel bikes being built by Marinoni, although steel is used in some of the frames with carbon tubes or rear triangles. There is a range of aluminum bikes, as well as carbon monocoque. In addition to road racing bicycles, Marinoni offers two track bikes, two time trial bikes and even two touring bicycles. There was a Ritchey BreakAway on a rack, painted in Marinoni colours but clearly marked as a Ritchey. And I was amazed to see that there is even a nice printed catalogue for Marinoni’s 2008 product line.

TTC at the top of the rack

The new all-carbon time trial bicycle, the TTC, is impressive but I suspect that Marinoni, like many smaller volume manufacturers, has its carbon frames built elsewhere and leaves the in-house workforce devoted to steel and aluminum and, perhaps, titanium.

My order was handled efficiently and after twenty minutes I got back in the car for the long drive home. Now I need to clean and polish all those lovely Campagnolo parts in preparation for the rebuild. Unfortunately I will not be going to Cirque du Cyclisme this June to show off the as-new Marinoni to the steel afficionados there but perhaps next year. I plan to continue to ride the Ciclo as a touring bike since there are lots of miles left in it yet.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

On the Road Again at Last!

Ottawa's miserable winter has relented enough that today I was able to cycle to work on BlackAdder. The temperature this morning was just below freezing, but the sun was shining and the long-range forecast is pretty similar. Except for two patches of ice where I had to walk, the roads were dry so today the outdoor cycling season really begins!

With a few previous and quite brutal rides to work, my total mileage for 2008 now stands at, uh, 17 kms. But the journey of 10,000 leagues begins with a single step.

Monday, March 24, 2008

The Brewery to Brewery (B2B) Ride: still yet another intersection of beer and cycling

Harpoon's Boston brewhouse

Yet another confirmation of the synergy between beer and cycling (as if one were needed) is Harpoon Brewery's annual ride from its original brewery in Boston to the one it acquired in 2000 in Windsor, Vermont: the Brewery to Brewery Ride (B2B).

June 14th, 2008 will mark the eighth time that this charity event has taken place. It is 143 miles/230 kms in length and is over a single day. Riders must be able to complete the event, including rest stops, in 10 hours or less and participants must be able to average at least 16 mph/25 kmh for the course. It appears that support is fairly minimal enroute.

Start times are dependent on your planned speed, with six groups leaving from 6 am onwards. It must be fun: the numbers were limited to 80 invited riders for the first three years, then increased to 300 riders in 2005, 375 in 2006 and 500 in 2007. The ride in 2008 was limited to 650 participants, and on March 20 it was sold out.

So better get on the e-mail list and mark it down for 2009!

Climate Change and Cycling

In November I wrote about TerraPass, a company that sells carbon offsets to people who want to reduce their transportation carbon footprint. Although this firm specializes in organizing investments in carbon-positive projects, it also provides tips on how you can reduce your environmental impact and has, on its website, written about how cycling can help the world. After all, every trip you make with a bicycle instead of a car reduces carbon output by that much. I linked to a blog article about bicycle commuting, and since then the author has had his car insurance reduced because he is driving less and no longer parking his car in a low-security area when at work. In addition, the TerraPass blog recently featured a link to an article from the Newport News, VA Daily Press reporting on the National Bike Summit in Washington, DC that suggests the high price of oil could make 2008 "the Year of the Bicycle" in the United States. Of course, for many of us it is always the Year of the Bicycle but it is good to see this kind of press.

Besides specialized companies like TerraPass, others see business opportunities in climate change. Clif Bar & Company, makers of the Clif Bar energy bar (surprise!), have a number of projects to promote sustainable development. One of these is the 2-Mile Challenge, which is built on the fact that 40 percent of urban trips in the United States are under two miles. The Challenge encourages participants to map a circle two miles in radius from their homes and ride their bikes in that area.

The company has converted a 1959 GMC bus to run on biodiesel and it is travelling around the Western US to encourage people to sign up for the challenge. In addition to giving out Clif Bars--which, I might like to point out still cost twice as much in Canada as in the United States in spite of the parity of our dollars, harrumph--the bus features interactive exhibits on bicycle commuting, with the chance to try out suitable bikes and win equipment and clothing and listen to some live music as well.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

The Great Tour of Brandenburg: Part 1

Coat of Arms of Brandenburg

I lived in Berlin, Germany from August 1998 to September 2002. Soon after my arrival, I purchased a book "The Great Bicycle Tour Around Berlin, in 40 Stages" and determined to ride the whole thing. The route described were all around 40 kms each and took the cyclists in a huge circle around the city. It was organized around train stations, with the idea that you could take the train to the start of the stage, do your ride and then come back from the next train station and then start again the following week from where you left off.

The Great Tour was enormous fun and gave me the opportunity to see Eastern Germany up close and personal.

Saturday, April 3, 1999: The Great Tour of Brandenburg Begins

After a Good Friday of perfect weather spent doing housework, I was resolved to get out and start my first leg of the Great Big Bike Ride around Brandenburg. Of course, on the Saturday, the weather was not quite as good as the house-cleaning day, with overcast skies, but with no rain in the forecast, I thought it would be okay even if not very photogenic.

I got to the train station in plenty of time to get my “Regio”, as they call regional commuter trains here, but in the best tradition of bureaucracy, I could not figure out how to buy a ticket for me and Mr. Bicycle. The vending machines were only for local traffic and the other machines did not cover Regios, but only long-distance traffic, so I decided to just buy the ticket on the train, which is allowed but usually costs somewhat more. There were several other cyclists waiting and they said I could do this. They were probably scandalized by my non-German lack of preparation, but the train was about to come in and we had to get ready to drag things on board.

The Regios are nifty red doubledecker trains, with special sections for bicycles. Unlike Switzerland, where local trains use hooks to let you hang up your bikes, the German system lets you sit next to the bike, but wastes huge amounts of space since the bicycles are just upright. There is an elastic cord you can wrap around several frames, but the whole thing is not very efficient and bikes fall over easily. Unlike hooks, other people’s bikes are near yours, which is a bad, bad thing for owners of brand-new, super-expensive custom-built English Racing Green sport-touring bikes who live in complete terror of having their babies scratched. Luckily, the train was not crowded so the danger was minimal.

Sitting next to me was a young man with a pretty short haircut and wearing camouflage motif clothing. He had a duffel bag and was listening to a really loud Walkman, which I could hear from about 3 meters away, although I could not make out the music but only the thumping bass. At 0 meters, I would have thought early-morning deafness was guaranteed.

Off we huffed and puffed and before I knew it, we were at my stop, Brieselang on the outskirts of the Berlin urban area, about an hour from Bahnhof Zoo. No conductor had appeared to take my money, so my introduction to the Regio was a freebie. My camouflaged friend got off as well and as I rode away, he was standing on the platform for the train heading back to Berlin, singing to the tunes on his Walkman (“Jawohl!”). Of course, Mr. Innocent Canadian suddenly realized this was one of those Neo-Nazi thugs we read about in the papers at home.

Not much to see in Brieselang, so off to the west towards Zeestow, a charming little village where I stopped to take a few photographs of the Real Brandenburg. As I was to discover subsequently, all towns in the Land are somewhat similar in layout, grouped around the village church. The area was historically staunchly Lutheran and it was remarkable to see just how many churches there were. They survived East German times but some of them did not appear to make the transition into the post-1989 Germany and were derelict. It seemed to depend on the size of the town or village involved.

Following the directions in my guidebook, I turned right off the main road and onto a country pathway lined with cherry trees in blossom. Although the cherry trees cheered me up, the road surface did not. It quickly dwindled from a hard-packed pathway to what appeared to be tractor ruts in the sand. And what sand! Brandenburg is famous/infamous for its sand, which is as fine as sugar. Good for white asparagus, perhaps, but this is not the ideal surface for a custom-built English Racing Green sports-touring bicycle with darn narrow, 145 psi-inflated tires. I did learn that you can push a bicycle in the sand even if you have cleated racing shoes since the cleats sink too. This went on for about 2 kms until I crossed some railroad tracks and came once again onto a hard-surfaced road that took me through a little industrial park.

After getting mildly lost, I found the right road towards my next goal, Tremmen. The road was now quite good and I was cruising nicely through a flattish agricultural region at a good clip. The guidebook warned me that the untrained would suffer going up the hill to Tremmen, but I did not even notice it. This meant that I was either well-trained, thanks to Mallorca, or I was going the wrong way. Luckily, I was going the right way, but the guidebook, which was accurate in saying that Tremmen had perhaps seen better days, was coy about the next stretch of road towards Wachow. Here I was to really discover the cobblestones of Brandenburg.

Tremmen is a typical Brandenburg town, with a main street of cobbles leading past the church. The houses are well-constructed and quite substantial although there is a bit of monotony since there were not a lot of colour varieties of brick used. Most are a brownish tone.

The cobblestones deserve some mention, and will get a lot during the entire ride. They come in several different flavours: the Yellow Brick Road, which is yellow bricks in a herringbone pattern, tightly-laid and somewhat smooth; the Small Cobblestones, which are not so tightly-laid and give a jarring ride; the Cyclist Smashers, which are gigantic rocks with arched tops that make you feel as if you are being hit with a great flat object as you ride. The Smashers really cut down your speed, not only because you cannot ride fast, but because after you pass over them you have to stop and tighten up all the bolts and screws on the bicycle or things will fall off. Riding on the shoulders does not work very well, since they are the already-noted sugar sand and bring you to a complete stop immediately.

The main street in Tremmen was composed of Cyclist Smashers, but I was fortunately able to ride on the sidewalks, which are just smooth brick, like the ones in Berlin. After Tremmen, there was an ordeal of Small Cobblestones partway to Wachow, but then things improved to an excellent regional road. This road had a first-rate bicycle path running alongside of it. I am not sure of the need for such a path, since the road is not heavily travelled and paths are expensive to maintain. I noted these unnecessary paths in a number of other sections of my ride.

Wachow was small and charming and, following an alley of chestnut trees, I was soon riding along a smooth road through an extensive marshland. Off to one side was a large field with a gigantic flock of large white birds. I stopped to look at them, thinking they might be the famous Brandenburg storks, but the more than fifty birds I looked at were surely a type of egret, a member of the heron family and quite common in the American South. I have seen lots of them in the Carolinas, in particular. In the USA, they were heavily hunted in the early years of the century nearly to extinction to meet the demands of the women’s hat industry and this ridiculous slaughter resulted in establishment of the Audubon Society on a national basis to successfully combat the hunt. These now-German egrets (from Africa, I guess) looked very happy standing around in the fields.

But better was to come. I stopped in the tiny town of Päwesin, on the east bank of the Beetzsee, to look at an enormous tripod between two houses on the main street. This structure was about 15 meters tall and my suspicion that it was a stork’s nest was happily confirmed when a tall, white bird with black wing patches looked down at me. I observed the stork for a few minutes and was delighted when the stork changed position and I had the chance to see another one beside the first. A nesting pair! This was very exciting to a Canadian who is not used to such large birds calmly sitting in an urban environment, although perhaps Päwesin might not be considered urban. But there they were, right on Main Street.

Heading now in a southerly direction, I passed quickly through the villages of Weseram and Klein Kreutz, arriving in Brandenburg am Havel (Brandenburg on the Havel River, as opposed to the Land of the same name) just before lunchtime.

Brandenburg/H., as they write it, is an old cathedral town, founded in 928 AD, but I did not find it terribly interesting. I spent no time exploring it because the traffic around it was terrible. Everybody was doing their Easter shopping before the stores closed and they would all starve on the weekend. Getting only moderately lost, I went up a very busy street on the west side of the Beetzsee, looking for a bicycle path that my guidebook claimed existed. Since the path was supposed to run alongside the lake, I turned right to go towards the Hotel Seeblick, or Lakeview, which I cunningly calculated must also be on the lake. Luckily, the hotel had a large map of the area outside and I discovered I had ridden right past the bikepath. Retracing my steps, I found a quite good bikepath, marked by a sign slightly larger than my hand. The Germans could certainly take another lesson from the Swiss, who use great, big signs that you cannot overlook and then show you are on the right path with regular confirming signs.

I stopped for my sandwich lunch on the shores of the Beetzsee at Brielow. Brielow had a nice big sign dedicated to its stork population, showing how many young had been hatched and where they lived. The bicycle/walking path was called the “Storchwander-weg” and I hope that they are successful in attracting visitors because of the storks.

The lake is fairly narrow and was very calm. There were plenty of bulrushes and although it was overcast, the whole scene was very peaceful and pretty. Compared to Ontario lakes, though, Brandenburg ones feel more like large ponds.

At this point, I had a slightly annoying equipment failure. My handlebar bag, which is supported by an odd bracket-and-string arrangement, chose this time to start flopping down onto the front wheel. After struggling for some time, I realized that I was using the wrong-sized screwdriver head to tighten up the bracket screws. As someone who always begins a project by reading the instructions and assembling it backwards, this did not come as a big surprise. Since the ride was meant as a test run for the new equipment, I was not overly concerned and everything functioned properly after this brief fuss. I suspect that when the people at Mountain Equipment designed the bag holder, they did not include the loosening effects of cobblestones in their calculations.

Refreshed, I returned to the road, a lovely stretch through Radewege, Butzow, Ketzür, Gortz and Bagow where I easily maintained a 35 km/h pace. There were some nice little hills and some gentle curves to enjoy and even a nice downhill stretch through dense forest. At the crossroads in Bagow, there is a very attractive Jugendstil/Art Nouveau church, highly unusual for the region, which was constructed in 1906. It was a most unlikely coral sort of colour, with brown half-timbering. It still seems to be active as a church.

On to Riewend, on the Riewendsee, which I could not see from the road. Then, without warning, began an astonishing stretch of Yellow Brick Road cobble, running for more than 5 kms. This looked as if it had been designed to last an eternity and it also felt as if it would take that long to ride it. After seeing my average speed plunge, and after losing a lot of the feeling in my hands and wrists, the village of Klein Behnitz was reached.

Consisting of the usual church and cobblestone main street, Klein Behnitz looked as if it was in an amazing state of preservation. If you would take the cars away, it would not have been out of place to see Frederick the Great to ride through, or watch the stage coach to Potsdam bounce over the cobbles. There were no new structures of any kind that I could see. The place would make an excellent location for any film on 19th Century Brandenburg village life. Or 18th Century even.

To make up for the bone-jarring cobblestones, the next stretch of road to Groß Behnitz was beautifully and smoothly paved. It is a mark of pride in Brandenburg to have cobblestones in your town. After reunification, many Eastern towns sold their cobblestones to wealthy Wessies who used them for paving their driveways. As a cyclist, I cannot help but think this was an excellent practice since it led to smooth asphalt, but now some towns are re-cobbling.

The Borsig family, famous locomotive builders in Berlin, had a Renaissance-style chateau in Groß Behnitz, constructed in the 1870s. Ernst von Borsig used the house as a base for the German Resistance and meetings with members of the old Prussian aristocracy, a number of whom were implicated in the July 20, 1944 plot, were held in 1942 and 1943, unnoticed by the Nazis since von Borsig often held hunting parties in his forests. The house burned down in 1947.

A little way further and I found myself in the large town of Nauen. An attractive cathedral, an old Rathaus and an important train station (for the region) later, and I was off on a so-called Landstrasse in the direction of Fehrbellin.

The Landstrasse is an East German thing. An agricutural road, clearly similar to those in France that I have ridden, these streets are look smooth but the asphalt is quite rough. As cars approached from the other direction, I also quickly realized that Landstrassen are very, very narrow, about the width of one car and one bicycle. This is not so good when the cars insist on taking the centre of the road. I had been warned often about the quality of driving in Brandenburg, where people are unaware that drinking and driving together constitute bad policy, but part of the bad accident rate must be due to these surprisingly narrow streets. Luckily, everyone seemed sober and the traffic was light. After all, who wanted to go to Utershorst or Hertefeld or Dreibrück or Hakenberg on a Saturday afternoon anyway? Hakenberg was actually a place people had once wanted to go, but first a description of the area.

Looking at the map, one is impressed by the number of rivers and canals in this region. Also, the towns all seem to be exactly 3 or 4 kilometres apart and constructed to an identical plan (yes, a cobbled main street and a church alongside). Apparently, the Great Elector, Friedrich Wilhelm Frederick the Great’s great-grandfather, encouraged French Huguenots to settle in Brandenburg after their civil rights were reduced after the Edict of Nantes in 1685. It seems that a number of these were clever engineers who were able to drain the marshlands and turn them into productive farmlands. More than 20,000 Huguenot families came to Prussia and more than a few of them settled in the little towns through which I was riding. At one point, one-third of the population of Berlin itself was actually French!

It was tiring riding the rough asphalt and cobbles through Deutschhof and Sandhorst and Königshorst and Dechtow (incidentally, all the names ending in “ow” are actually Slavic in origin rather than German and are pronounced “oh” rather than “off”). But up ahead in Hakenberg I could see something unusual: a monument. Just off the road stands a Siegessäule, a Column of Victory marking the defeat of the Swedes at the hands of the Great Elector’s army on June 28, 1675.

The Great Elector had a tendency to forget with whom he had forged alliances. With Prussia in the centre of Europe, this was a Bad Thing. An alliance with the Netherlands had flopped and ended up with Louis XIV taking pieces of Prussian territory on the Rhine. These were given back but Francophobia reined. Then Prussia joined an alliance against France headed by Austria, with Spain, the Netherlands and Denmark. This did not work out well as the Alliance suffered bad military defeats in France. While the army was camped for the winter in Franconia, far away in the South, the Swedes invaded Prussia in December 1674 and were making a mess of Brandenburg. No alliance troops were coming to the Great Elector’s rescue and his general, the 70 year old Derfflinger, had to move the 7,000 man army right across central Germany, with all the baggage and the soldiers’ 3,000 dependents. Within two weeks, the army was back and Derfflinger chased the Swedes out of the fortress at Rathenow and caught up with them at Hakenberg. The Swedes outnumbered the Prussians but did not realize it. Derfflinger was able to position his 13 artillery pieces to command the field, while the Swedes could only get 7 of their 38 guns to fire. The Swedes lost 2,000 men to 500 Prussian casualties and the Battle of Fehrbellin, although minor in European terms, marked the establishment of the fame of the Prussian army and the Great Elector received that nickname due to this success. General Derfflinger, anxious to boot the Swedes right out of Prussia, took a cavalry force and covered 500 kms in 10 days and inflicted another defeat on the Swedes in Tilsit. Considering that 17th Century cavalry mounts were more like draft horses, this was a remarkable feat.

Fehrbellin, centre of the regional peat industry, is an attractive and active old town. It is linked to Berlin by the A24 autobahn and judging from its prosperity, is probably used as home base for commuters. There is a lot of residential construction going on, but the old part of the town remains intact and is quite charming. Unfortunately, Fehrbellin does not have a railway station, so I was going to have to figure out how to get to Friesack, where there was one.

My guidebook suggested going from Fehrbellin to Brunne and then by a path to Vietznitz and on to Friesack, a trip of about 12 kms. When I reached Brunne, nobody could explain how to reach Vietznitz. In fact, locals suggested that the route, wherever it was, would be quite unsuited to anything but a mountain bike. I took an alternative route that was closer to 25 kms. Unfortunately, 6 kms of it was over really terrible road. This consists of two parallel paths of concrete plaques, each about 1.5 metres in length. It was like riding over endless expansion joints and one had to keep looking for traffic as the whole road was only one lane wide. I would have thought that it would have been easier just to lay down a simple asphalt road through the countryside instead of going to all the trouble of these concrete things, but perhaps they needed them for moving tanks around or something.

Exhausted as I was by this “road,” the last ten kilometres from Warsow to Friesack went very well. The road was superb and interesting, with little hills and no traffic and, as always at the end of a long bike ride, the closer the destination the greater the magnetic pull it exerts. The train station is beyond Friesack itself, in the middle of a field. The station has seen better days as well and although there was a snack bar/pub, the rest of the station was boarded up. Switching from my racing shoes to sandals and finishing up the last of my Gatorade, I rested on the platform and twenty minutes later the hourly train to Berlin pulled in.

This time the conductor collected some money from me. I had had a whole day of adventure in the Prussian heartland, covering 156 kilometres, for a total cost of DM 11, or less than C$ 10. And probably 3500 calories! And I had learned that my bicycle, which I had only ridden 200 kms total in Canada, was superbly comfortable over a long day of riding. I had no stiffness anywhere the next day, to my amazement. I had also learned that the plan of taking the train to a jump-off point and coming back from another worked very well. And I had learned not to trust the guidebook, whose authors have a rather different idea of what constitutes a rideable surface for a bicycle than I do.

Friday, March 21, 2008

The Business Press Notices Cycling, Again

A recent article in Business Week detailed the history of an American success story, bicycle components manufacturer SRAM. Besides learning that the firm name uses the founders' initials, it was entertaining to read that the CEO was unemployed in 1987 when he decided to get into the bike parts business by making shifters, the famous GripShift. It was a miserable flop for road bikes but by 1989 had become a success with mountain bikers. A lawsuit against Shimano, which only would sell complete component sets, was settled and the company has gone from strength to strength, with current revenues at US$ 318 million annually. The firm employs 1800 people in 12 offices in 7 countries. It has purchased a number of well-known parts manufacturers, including RockShox, Avid and Sachs Bicycle Components. In 2006 it introduced the new Force and Rival road groups and they have begun to appear on pro-level racing bikes.

SRAM sounds like a fun place to work:

You won't find many cars at SRAM's headquarters on the Near North Side of Chicago. Nearly all the office's 100 employees pedal to work, including Day, who is 51. Expensive road and mountain bikes clutter the place. Day himself doesn't work from a regular desk or office. Six-foot-three and fit, he uses a drafting table in the open. Walls, he says, would cut him off from co-workers. Or the beer vending machine, where employees can buy cold ones for 75 cents after 5 p.m. Or his view of the bike test track, which runs the circumference of the interior.

The Radler: yet another intersection of beer and cycling

My first Radler, from Bad Schussenried

After posting the article about the health benefits of beer, I gave more thought to the relationship of beer-drinking and cycling. I was always curious about “Radler,” a shandy-type drink served in beer halls and restaurants everywhere in Germany, since the name means “cyclist.” The connection was not apparent to me and as a person who likes his beer pretty much as simply beer I was not all that enthusiastic about the idea of mixing it with a soft drink or juice. While cycling in Germany, I tended to drink Schorle, which is just sparkling water mixed with fruit juice, during a ride and then switching to more serious consideration of beer in the evening.

The jolly Franz Xaver

However, it turns out that there is an historical connection between this drink and cycling. The story goes that an entrepreneurial innkeeper named Franz Xaver Kubler had an establishment a short distance from Munich. He was a former railway worker and had opened his inn late in the 19th Century in Deisenhofen.

He arranged to have a bicycle path built through the woods to his place, the Kubler Alm, and on a summer’s day in June 1922 a considerable number of Bavarians, having taken up cycling after World War I with great enthusiasm, descended on Herr Kubler and required refreshment. Herr Kubler does not look like someone who would stint on beer but on that day he and his staff faced an estimated 13,000 thirsty cyclists and–disaster of disasters in Bavaria–it was clear that there was not going to be enough beer. Herr Kubler did, however, have a large stock of unsalable lemon soda and he improvised, mixing it 50/50 with beer and claiming that he had invented the drink just for the occasion to ensure that the cyclists would be able to get home in fairly sober condition, although I suspect that in 1922 there were not a lot of cars around to hit them anyway. He christened his creation the “Radlermass” from “Radler” for “cyclist” and “Mass” being the standard litre quantity of beer that the Bavarians drink. The drink quickly gained popularity and became available throughout Germany. The name is generally shortened to “Radler,” although in Northern Germany it is called “Alsterwasser,” after the river that flows through Hamburg.

After riding the Bad Schussenried Radmarathon in 2000, a really dreadful 200 km ride most of which was undertaken in pouring, cold rain, I was presented with a certificate, a beer stein (a “Mass”) and a bottle of Radler brewed by the Bad Schussenried brewery, one of the sponsors of the ride. I was not very interested in the Radler but I took it home to Berlin anyway. A few months later, on a very hot day, I discovered that I was out of beer but the bottle of Radler was in the fridge so I opened it. It was delicious! The Germans take a light blond lager and mix it with lemon soda and it was quite refreshing. The main advantage is that the full flavour of the beer is apparent but the alcohol content is reduced. 0.5 litres of Radler is about 265 Kcal, compared to around 205 Kcal for that much regular beer so even though the alcohol is down the sugar from the lemon soda clearly neutralizes the weight-loss effect.

The Kubler Alm is still in business and the outdoor beer garden will seat over 2,000 people. It has a full calendar of events and in July there is a celebration of the invention of the Radler. There are bicycle racks sufficient for over 400 bikes so clearly the owners have not forgotten their tradition.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Eight Healthy Reasons to Drink Beer!

Just in time for St. Patrick's Day, Forbes has published an article about the health benefits of drinking beer. You can read the piece here. We have always suspeced that the Truth is Out There and are delighted that the mainstream press knows about it. Of course, an additional reason to drink beer is to toast the successful bicycle ride you have just completed!

Friday, March 7, 2008

Inadvertent Doping?

News feature, March 7, 2008

Neben, others sue Hammer Nutrition over contamination

Mark Zalewski, North American Editor

Amber Neben
Photo ©: Team Flexpoint
(Click for larger image)

American cyclist Amber Neben, along with professional triathletes Rebekah Keat and Mike Vine, filed a lawsuit in a California district court last December against Hammer Nutrition, maker of Endurolytes. The lawsuit alleges that the product contained unlisted substances that caused all three plaintiffs to produce positive doping tests, and that further resulted in subsequent doping violations and sanctions.

Court documents obtained by Cyclingnews state that each plaintiff took multiple capsules of the product Endurolytes before competing in events in which each subsequently tested positive for 19-norandrosterone, a metabolite of the banned steroid norandrostenedione found in urine. Arguing for the plaintiffs is Howard Jacobs, well known for his work with Floyd Landis' case as well as other professional athletes involved with doping violations.

The lawsuit, which was initiated by Keat and her twin-sister Simone, states that Simone had the capsules in question independently tested by the WADA-accredited Doping Control Centre lab in Malaysia in June of 2006, all before retaining Jacobs. That lab reported to Keats that the capsules contained dehydroepiandrosterone and 4-androstenedione. Upon further examination, after repeated requests by Keat, the lab also found the samples were contaminated with norandrostenedione.

For the rest of the article, read today's Cyclingnews.com here.

There have been a number of cases where cyclists have been punished for doping offences where it appears they may not have been at fault. For those of us using Hammer nutrition products it is disturbing to read that it may be possible for them to be contaminated. It will be interesting to see what the court determines here.