Cycling

Cobbling Together A Classics Bike: Tech and Modifications For Flanders

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It’s the Classics season in Europe, a time of cobblestone roads, crosswinds, and fascinating tweaks to the pros bikes to hand the rough farm roads of Belgium and northern France. We’re taking a look at some of the little adjustments pros make to their normal bikes to make all those miles bouncing over the cobbles and climbing up the hellingen a bit more bearable.

The cobbled classics are in full swing. The first cobble races of the season start at the beginning of March with the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne. Over the next few weeks, races build into a crescendo with smaller semi-Classics, used by pro teams to test their riders and their gears on the roads used in the Monuments that cap off the spring campaign, the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix. As some of the oldest races on the calendar, the two races have seen plenty of changes, though their identities remain largely unchanged since their inception over 100 years ago. Both send racers of sections of cobblestone, or pave, though each race presents these in different ways.

De Ronde. At just over 100 years old, the Ronde van Vlaanderen features over a dozen small bergs, or climbs, that are still made with cobblestones. Volunteers and local organizations have banded together over the year to protect iconic roads like the Paterberg, the Koppenberg, and the Oude Kwaremont from being resurfaced and to preserve the character of the race. These bergs may not be towering alpine climbs, but their rough surface and short, steep pitches are incredibly taxing on riders’ legs, especially over the massive 260 kilometer course. Many of those climbs are taken twice of even three times throughout the race, with fans sticking to one spot to see riders more often, or racing along dusty farm tracks to catch the race passing elsewhere.

The Paris-Roubaix, known as the ‘Hell of the North’ or the Queen of the Classics, offers a different challenge. It’s route from the northern outskirts of Paris to the small industrial town of Roubaix are almost entirely flat; there’s hardly a climb in over 250 kilometers. Instead, the 29 cobbles secteurs are littered with bigger, rougher, and more jarring stones than those you’ll find at Flanders, and as a result, many riders make more modifications to their bike for this race.

Until the last ten years, most racer made few changes to their bikes for Roubaix.They enlisted what few changes they could to reduce the beating their bodies endure over the stones of both Flanders and Roubaix, often adding a second layer of bar tape, taping their wrists and knuckles, and running as wide a tire as they could fit into their frames. Often, that wasn’t much more than a 23 or 25c tire. The occasional rider would use a cyclocross bike, which offered a way to run  wider tires and more forgiving geometry, but that was rather infrequent,

All of that has changed in the past half decade, with more and more brands designing bikes that offer more vertical compliance, more tire clearance, disc brakes, and a geometry designed to offer the rider a bit more support. These bikes often use a taller head tube, slightly longer wheelbase for more stability, and a carbon layup that allows for more vertical flex in the frame to offer more relieve for the rider. Maybe the biggest difference is the ability to run 25, 28, even 30c tires at lower tire pressures for a smoother ride and more grip. With the prevalence of disc brakes, some riders are even able to stick with their normal aerodynamic, and less forgiving, bikes while still being able to fit a wide 27 or 28c tire. When Matt Hayman won the 2016 Paris-Roubaix, he didn’t do it on Scott’s cobble or gravel-specific frame; he did it on their aero road bike, the Foil.

That said, most teams and riders will hop on their Classics bikes, and most continue to add little tweaks to take that specificity even further. You’ll still see double-wrapped handlebars and taped wrists, but new tech means new ideas, too. Many riders will add satellite shifters to their bars, allowing them to shift not only from the hoods, but also from the tops and from the drops with wired or even wireless buttons.

Another Classics favorite is grip tape, the kind you’d see on a skateboard, added to the inside of water bottle cages. Even those get swapped out; instead of light carbon cages, many teams install regular aluminum cages that can be bent down for a tighter fit to prevent losing bottles.

Gearing also gets tweaked at these races. With the steep, sharp climbs of Flanders offering plenty of fatigue, riders will use a 53/39 crankset paired with an 11-30 or 32 cassette to have a little extra room to shift on the 15, 20, even 25% pitches of the hellingen. Alternatively, there’s not much need for a 39 at Roubaix; instead, riders will put on a 55 or 54t big chainring and run a 46, 48, or 50 small ring, just to give the legs a bit of a break when necessary. Many will never shift off the big ring, and many run a chain catcher adjusted very close to the chain line to make sure they never drop a chain over the rough cobbles.

Maybe the biggest adjustment any rider can make is to the tires. Many riders opt for 27c tubulars, though there have been sightings of 28s and 30c tires this spring and over the past few seasons. Additionally, they run low tire pressure for more comfort, often down to as low as 55 psi, depending on the weight of the rider. Nearly every brand has tried to find the perfect tire for cobbles, which can offer up kilometer after kilometer of rough, sharp rocks and plenty of debris in the gutters, too.

We love seeing all the nerdy, techy adaptations added to bikes this time of year, and if we see anything cool, we’ll share it on our Facebook and Instagram. To see what gravel bikes we’ve got set-up like the pros, stop in and see us!

Spring Riding Essentials: Be Ready For The Thaw

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While we shoveled just two days ago and the shop windows were lined with frost this morning, spring is coming. With temps hitting the 40s and even 60s over the next few days, even a cold snap or two during the ides of March won’t slow the approach of spring.

To get ready, we put together a few bits of gear you might want to nab so you’re ready to roll when the roads are clear. With so much snow in the woods and much of the trails almost sure to turn icy, hitting the pavement is likely the best way to enjoy the warmer days.

  1. Tires. Even with mostly clear pavement, you’re going to find plenty of splotches of ice, dirt, debris, and water out on the roads. For more grip, put the widest tires you can on your road bike. We’re rocking a mix of Panaracer GravelKings in both the slick and treaded options in a nice wide 32c. We’ve had a ton of luck with these tires on the dirt and on the road over the past two years, and they’ve proven to be extremely durable for high miles and puncture resistant, too.

  2. Check Your Flat Kit. It’s been a long while since you’ve looking in your bag. Make sure your tube hold air, your chuck or pump aren’t rusted out, and make sure you’ve got a lever, a patch, and maybe a quick link, too. There’s nothing worse than flatting on a cold, soggy spring ride, only to find you don’t have everything you need to get moving again.

  3. Dress For Anything. Spring weather is notoriously changeable in northern Michigan, and if you head out in sun, seeing rain clouds unleash overhead just a few miles later isn’t a surprise. Always bring a shell or rain jacket, which will also come in handy if you have to stop for a flat. Grabbing a second pair of gloves for the second half of the ride isn’t a bad idea, either.

  4. Tubeless? Get Refreshed. Your wheels haven’t turned in a while, so you’ll need to make sure your tubeless sealant is refreshed. We usually take the extra second to take the tire off the rim and clean out the old, dried up sealant. If you don’t have an air compressor, it’s usually easier to just drop off your wheels and let us tackle it.

  5. Fenders. Especially if you ride with pals, a set of fenders are a real treat. Many bikes will have dedicated mounts to fit sturdy, full coverage fenders. Even if your bike doesn’t have those mounts, there are plenty of clip-on options that fit a wide range of wheel sizes and tire widths. They do more than just help keep you dry, too. Fendors also help keep your drivetrain, bottom bracket, pedals, and frame protected from slush and salt.

  6. Get Visible. Drivers often just aren’t used to seeing riders back on the road in March and April. This makes it more important than ever to wear bright, visible colors to stand out against the grey roads and white, snowy shoulders of the road. Even if you’re riding during day, use a pair of bright front and rear lights to draw more attention and give yourself a little more room.

  7. Get In Soon. Need a tune-up? Get in now. The first sunny day with temperatures over 50 and we’re going to get a big rush of bikes needing work. The sooner you can get your bike to Natron and Jeff, the better. Call ahead to reserve a spot or check in on our current turn-around time!

We’re exciting for the new season to get here, and we want to make sure we’ve got everything you need to hit the spring at full speed!

Duby's Impress at Dogman Challenge

PC. Julie Christiansen

PC. Julie Christiansen

After three races, both John and Cindy Duby are looking golden in the Short’s Brewing Fat Bike Series.

This past weekend, the Dogman Challenge saw 75 racers take on a two-mile circuit race for a full two hours of tough, snowy racing. Even with warm temperatures and the chance of rain, the course held up exceptionally well, as did our two Master-category crushers, the Dubys! Even with some of the best racers in action, our duo put in strong rides to bring home top results and keep City Bike Shop on the podium.

Cindy picked up another win in the women’s Master’s category, staying perfect this winter in that category and all but assuring herself the Series win with just one more race to go. It wasn’t easy, either; Cindy spend most of the day trying to stay out of the clutches of Amelia Hasenohrl and Kamie Wade, both of whom finished just a few minutes back, even after two hours of tough racing. Cindy will head into the final race of the Series with a comfortable lead, but she’ll want to make a clean sweep of things and make it a perfect four wins in 2019.

John finished second in the Master’s category, a huge haul of points that should see him inch closer to the lead of the Series. He’ll be hard-pressed to leap front Saturday’s winner and the Series leader, Paul Olson, but John has been the revelation of the Series this winter and has put in some top ten finishes since things kicked off in January. John was just three minutes behind the day’s overall winner, Rick Wetherald, and was one of the just 15 riders to put in a sub-10 minute lap!

The final fat bike race of the winter is back home in Traverse City on Saturday, March 2. Beard of Zeus is one of the most fun events of the season, with a short, circuit-style course offering fast racing and plenty of entertainment if you can make it up to watch at Timber Ridge. We’re going to see a ton of City Bike Shop racers jump back in the fray, and after getting a hefty snowstorm Sunday night, we’re going to have plenty of snow and ideal conditions for racing!

Also important to note, proceeds from Beard of Zeus go to Northern Michigan Mountain Bike Association, the organization responsible not just for our groomed trails all winter, but for the miles and miles of trails we enjoy all summer long in Traverse City, at the Cadillac Pathway, Glacial Hills, and the new trails at Palmer Woods. Your race this weekend can help give you a place to ride this summer; you can’t beat that!

Registration is open, sign up and say hi to the City Bike Shop racers you line up with at Timber Ridge this Saturday!

The Best Mountain Bike Team In The World Wears Stripes

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Okay, it might not be us, but the Scott-SRAM mountain bike team features two World Champions and the best fleet of bikes to choose from.

2019 is shaping up to be an incredible year for Scott-SRAM. Already known for seven-time World Champion Nino Schurter, the squad wasn’t happy with settling. This winter, they went after, and signed, newly-crowned women’s XCO World Champion Kate Courtney, putting both World Champions in the same team for the first time in the modern era of mountain biking.

It’s a pairing that promises big results in the season ahead, and they have some serious firepower to back them up, too. They squad has Lars Forster and Andri Frischknecht also on the roster. The quartet spent the last few weeks getting ready for an ambitious campaign that starts in earnest with the Cape Epic in mid-March.

Kate Courtney, the first American to win a World Championship in over two decades, will focus her season on the full World Cup and defending her world title. It’s a special season as she looks to hold onto the rainbow jersey, with the 2019 World Championships taking place in North America at Mount Sainte Anne in Canada this Septemeber.

At the shop, we’re really excited to see just how far SCOTT-SRAM can push this year. For Nino and for Kate, it’s a season where one will look to continue a dynastic dominance and the other looks to begin her own.

Check out how the team is preparing for the new season here, and stop by City Bike to check out the same bikes they’ll be riding in person!