Friday, February 14, 2020

Friday News And Views

Walton Heirs Move Rapha From Portland To Bentonville:

News dropped on Wednesday that cycling apparel company, Rapha, based in the UK, was moving its Portland, Oregon based US operations to Bentonville, Arkansas. The move is believed to be motivated by the Walton brothers, heirs of the WalMart fortune, who own the parent company of Rapha.

It has been widely reported that the Walton heirs are cycling fans and that they have built up the Bentonville area into a destination spot for mountain bikers, and now are bringing assets that will attract road and gravel cyclists to the area as well. Related to the Rapha move is the relocation of Allied Cycles, also owned by a company which is owned itself by the Waltons. Allied, in case you weren't aware, makes high end US carbon road and gravel bikes. The Waltons are also involved in the WalMart brand, Viathon, which is also selling higher end carbon road and mountain bikes via WalMart outlets and online.

To say that the Walton heirs have transformed the Bentonville area into an attractive place for cycling companies to relocate is a mild understatement. There are rumblings of other cycling companies wanting to come to this area as well. Lower housing costs for employees, lower cost of living, and centralized shipping are reasons stated for this, but you have to figure that the investments made by the Walton heirs are the key here.

Keep in mind that Life Time events' new Big Sugar gravel event is based out of this area, and that the recent USAC-Gravel pow-wow was held in the town as well. The Walton money is central to all this activity. Question: What happens when the money dries up? Well, nobody knows you when you are down and out, right Portland?

The Robert Axle Project "Drive Thru" chain management tool
Gizmo Alert: Robert Axle Project's Drive Thru:

You may have heard of the Robert Axle Project, (no! it isn't a band!), and if you have, you know that they do axles, (duh!), and through axles of various thread pitches and lengths are their game. Well, they just came out with this new gizmo called a "Drive Thru". It's kind of like the Pedros Chain Keeper, only for through axles, and a lot better made too.

This particular one will work on my gravel bikes with the 12mm X 1.0 thread pitch through axle standard. They have these in 1.5 and 1.75 thread pitches as well. There is no reason these wouldn't work for mountain and road bikes as well.

Here's the thing- The obvious use is for when you are cleaning your bike and don't want the chain slapping all around your chain stay. But there are other reasons to have this too. Transporting your bike without wheels? Or how about while you are doing rear tire swaps, or maintenance on the drive train and don't want to get chain cleaning/lube spooge on your tires? I'm sure you can come up with other ideas here.

The Drive Thru has a wheel and it does rotate, and it can slide back and forth on the axle. So, you could check shifting without the rear wheel in the bike, or fool around with your front derailleur without a rear wheel. It's made from aluminum and a sort of plastic, maybe nylon reinforced? Not sure because the site doesn't tell us. But it is another level above a Pedros Chain Keeper and obviously, that tool is for a quick release anyway. Yes, it costs $35.00, but it is something you'll have around for years and something you probably will find really useful.

Note: The Robert Axle Project sent over the Drive Thru for test and review to at no charge. I was not bribed nor paid for this review and I will always strive to give my honest thoughts and opinions throughout. 

Too chunky for the UCI?  Image from the T.I.v9 course
 The UCI Sets Guidelines For Gravel Road Sectors In Pro Events: 

Recently, "Velo News" ran this article which tells how the UCI, (Pro Cycling's governing arm) is going to set guidelines for the inclusion of gravel sectors in Pro level road events.

You can go read the details, but essentially what this means is that the UCI can summarily veto any gravel sector in an event that they deem as being unsafe or that hinders spectators and follow cars from being used. They have also informed promoters that they will even go so far as to not register events as sanctioned on their calendar if the protocols are not followed.

I'm going to make a few observations. First- this is a good hint at what would happen should there ever be a Pro level gravel series in the U.S.A. run by USAC. Secondly, I bet there are a LOT of people that won't see any issues with the directives, especially the ones that talk about rider safety. But here's the thing- what is "safe" in their domain? Hard to say from what we can read here, but I'm betting this would be a very arbitrary, subjectively applied rule. I mean, what are they going to do? Measure gravel with a gauge to insure the correct grind? This would be an impossible task, by the way, since gravel conditions can, and often do, change by the mile. Look at my image here. It's from the course of Trans Iowa v9.

This image shows a section of about a mile, mile and a half, where the depth, size of rock, and roughness of those stones was exemplary. Just about the chunkiest gravel I've ever seen on a road, with the exception of a mile of fist sized rocks strewn across about a mile plus of the original Dirty Kanza course in 2006. The riders did this section, and no one was injured. But how would the UCI see that? I'm betting they wouldn't accept it. Too hard. 

But again, I don't know for sure. I'm spit-ballin' here, but my point is that the sanitization of sectors of gravel, or the outright elimination of them, since it will be such a pain to include them, in Pro Tour events is going to happen. First of all, the whole "follow car" thing is such a backwards deal. We ride bicycles to get away from cars, but here are about 20 of them, plus motos, screaming around the course. It's an anathema for gravel cycling folk here. We don't want that. It's not the vibe we all went for when we decided to start riding gravel events. Self-support means you don't have to have that garbage out there. Those rolling trains of machinery are not necessary.

I could go on, but this points out, to me at least, one of the main reasons why the UCI can buzz off. They don't get it, and I, for one, don't care about seeing Pro level gravel racing under their stranglehold. It would instantly become exactly what gravel cycling is not.

But.......there already is a Gravel Worlds!
 But Wait! There's More Craziness!

Thursday a story broke that the founder of the Eroica events, rides that feature vintage road bikes, riders wearing vintage apparel, and often ridden on unimproved roads, wants to instigate a "Gravel Worlds". Apparently, the Eroica founder, Giancarlo Brocci, approached the UCI with his ideas in January this year.

Mr. Brocci's ideas are pretty interesting and very non-traditional from a UCI perspective, so I do not know how far they will get towards putting on this event. Eroica events have some pretty strict rules regarding the types of bikes and apparel to be worn, but obviously those would not be in play for this "Gravel Worlds" idea Mr. Brocci proposes. What is in play is almost unbelievable. Mr. Brocci suggests a minimum body fat rating for riders so they cannot go below a level which would promote doing unhealthy things. He also advocates drinking in moderation for the participants. He even goes as far as saying he wants to ban computers and power meters. (!!) But some of his ideals seem very in tune with the core U.S. gravel scene.

Things like self-supported racing, a keen eye towards banning cheaters, no doping, and his Gravel Worlds would be at least 300K and start at night. (Now that's my kind of thinking right there!) So, who knows? I feel like this man has his heart in the right place, but I also feel like his take on things is 180° opposite of the UCI's, and with current established Euro promoters. I could be all wrong, but I just don't see it happening with these two groups.

But again, a very interesting development and as I said earlier- 2020 seems to be starting up hot as the year "gravel" reaches the top levels of sport in cycling. Yeah..... Just as with 29"ers, I never saw this coming. I find the whole thing surreal. (Is it April 1st?)

Okay, that's it for this week! Get out and ride those bikes and thanks for reading!


graveldoc said...

My thoughts on your fascinating posting today, Mark: Well, transIowa, PCL, and DK appear to be grandparents and look wwhat is happening with the Grand kids... I live about 2 hours north of Bentonville IN SOUTHWEST Missouri. I'm aware of some of the increase in VARIOUS cycling genres in Northwwest Arkansas. I'm not surprised of the changes happening with the Walton familypresence their. That's where the money is. Also, the communities in that region display a remarkable transformation related to this presence and financial influx. I expect to see further population growth there as well. Also, I"m fascinated by L'eroica style events; especially on the lines of the traditional Italian event in Gaioli in Chianti after watching a video on the event several years ago. I'd think it would take the participation of many communities to make that work in the U.S. just to have the traditional "refueling stops" I've seen in the video. Also, that COG magazine I sent you has a nice article about riding fixed gear in l'Eroica.

CrossTrail said...

So, professional road race promoters see an opportunity to supply a market demand by adding a gravel component to their events and UCI responds with micro-manage control. UCI can't even manage its own. No chance it can control the great unwashed gravel community.

Guitar Ted said...

@graveldoc - Thanks for that COG mag again, by the way. I look at it every now and again.

baric said...

While some of Mr. Brocci's ideas for a Gravel World type event are, as we can see, very sound; wonder where he got those from?; it also seems like he is trying to go the way of "Hollywood" or maybe Michael Blumberg. Can you imagine the promos on that one? said...

The irony of Rapha being majority owned by the Walton family is just too big over here in Portlandia. You have to understand the severity of the anti-Walmart stance here but every hipster on a bike out here owns Rapha clothing. Glad I live in rural Washington County west of PDX.