After three weeks, we've fully recovered from NAHBS and we're ready to actually start talking about it.
'Two things a man should never be angry at: what he can help, and what he cannot.' - Thomas Fuller
Our workshop operates very much like a kitchen. An order is sent in, the materials are meticulously prepared and assembled, and out comes a masterpiece chosen specifically by the customer, with every element and flavor available cohesively tied together to produce a satisfying piece of art.
We first met James last week when he came in to our workshop looking to talk details about having us build him a custom road bike. The invitation to our 2017 Collection Holiday Launch Party was just released, so naturally the event came up in conversation. The attracting points of the party were being laid out–new paint schemes, limited edition merchandise, Telegraph Brewing Co. beer–and James promptly asked, "Do you guys have a food vendor yet?"
Overwhelming and scattered plans tend to work themselves out. We couldn't have hopped on the opportunity to have James cook for our Holiday Party any faster if we tried. We're thrilled to announce that Finch & Fork Executive Chef Siao will be in attendance, selling full-sized portions of pork belly and vegetable ramen. Come prepared for savory and delectable bowls to keep you warm for the whole night. The proceeds will be donated back to his Chefs Cycle|No Kid Hungry campaign, in which James will ride 300 miles in 3 days to raise awareness for and bring an end to child hunger.
With that, here is our special guest mini-interview.
Five Questions with Chef James Siao
Q: I read that you're originally from Ohio. How did you end up all the way in Santa Barbara?
JS: After culinary school in Pittsburgh I traveled to Scottsdale, Arizona. During that time, I learned and trained under great chefs at a number of restaurants that lead me to Kimpton. The company has given me many opportunities to travel and discover the west coast since I joined the team. Just over 4 years ago I was asked to help transition our new property, the Canary hotel and Coast restaurant. During the few weeks in Santa Barbara the community and people made a great impression on me. Luckily was asked to stay and continue growing my career here with Finch & Fork.
Q: When/where did your road cycling career begin?
JS: My start in road cycling came by being in the right place at the right time. We started a great program called “Tour with the Chef” at the Canary hotel, where I would take guests around town on bicycles to my favorite spots–maybe Handlebar for coffee, cheese tasting at C'est Cheese, tacos, and wine tastings. This lead me to running into Russo, the GM of the Lark at the time, a couple years ago while grabbing some wine at Les Marchands. He spoke of an opportunity that the sous chef was doing called Chefs Cycle for No Kid Hungry, where a group of passionate chefs and likeminded individuals ride 300 miles to raise money for a great cause, ending childhood hunger. My assumption of “it’s like riding a bike” was very far off from reality when understanding road cycling. From the bib shorts (which took a minute to get used to but are highly needed when road cycling) I learned quickly, to the technique of cadence (I had no clue). Now it’s been a few years and its changed my life, influencing my health and the culture.
Q: What was your first Chefs Cycle experience like? How do you think this year will be different?
JS: Definitely wasn’t easy as it was my first century let alone 3 of them in a row. My legs were sore for weeks, but the first year was incredible and life-changing. It was an unbelievable journey from Santa Barbara to San Diego with truly great individuals. It challenged me physically and mentally since I was so new to cycling, especially going the distance. The past two Chefs Cycles have been very memorable and I wouldn’t think this year should be any different with a beautiful new location in Santa Rosa. The difference for me is the connections you make with all the riders and how we all support each other from first time riders to seasoned riders.
Q: Fun questions. Imagine you're going on a 50-mile ride. What do you bring to eat?
JS: Always prepared and thoroughly enjoyed with Honey Stinger waffles and some type of energy chew.
Q: The restaurant life probably takes up most of your energy, so quiet time is probably nice. What's your favorite dish to cook for yourself at home on your nights off?
JS: I go with comfort and that’s usually a delicious bowl of noodles with a hot spicy broth, some vegetables, and poached egg. Simple, quick, and rewarding.
Looks like James will bring some of that same comfort to the Stinner Frameworks workshop for our Holiday Launch Party this Saturday evening, December 10th at 7:30pm.
We thank Chef Siao for volunteering to work with us to provide delicious meals for our event. If you are interested in providing a donation to James for his next 300-mile journey with Chefs Cycle|No Kid Hungry, please visit the following link:
Editor: In the noise and the static of the day-to-day, having the necessary space to simply think, to simply ask and to simply seek requires special roads and a special quiet. For many of us, that space is atop a bicycle where we can finally just... ponder.
In the words that follow, a simple question led Max Leonard and his friends (and fellow wanderers) on a mission simply to seek. To seek hidden gravel roads cut through the Alps leading to military bunkers of a tougher time. Must we justify our questions and curiosities? Absolutely not! It is simply because we want to ask "why?" It is only human.
Without further ado, Max Leonard's words, photography from Camille McMillan and Antton Miettinen.
Remember I said last time that Europe did not have the same kind of dirt or gravel roads as the US? Well. I’ve been seeing in this gentle autumn by exploring forestry tracks and abandoned mining roads on my Stinner, and I may have revised my opinion. They are not so numerous here, as most of Western Europe doesn’t have the same large spaces and low population density, but they’re there if you seek them.
And what do we do on our bicycles other than seek?
Riding is where you keep your eyes open, look further, question why. In the mountains especially. If you don’t, you might just as well be giving yourself shit on a spin bike in the gym. And when it gets to something weird like that I struggle with the ‘why’.
We probably all ask ourselves that question, more or less constantly, but rarely find an answer. Or maybe the answer is not as important as the asking. My most recent ‘why’ was a long and profitable one. At least I thought so. Forgive me for being the White Rabbit leading you down the rabbit hole, but it grew over the course of several years exploring the roads of the Southern Alps and seeing squat blocks of crumbling concrete sitting above the passes. Military bunkers. Why were they here? What was worth defending in this, one of the most remote and beautiful places in Europe?
The answers eventually became Bunker Research a book I made with cycling photographer Camille McMillan. We described it as the hidden history of modernism in the mountains, except now I’ve decided that’s not quite right. Because the Second World War, for which thousands of tons of concrete was poured in anger all across Western Europe, was where the modernism of Le Corbusier, Mies van der Rohe and others became brutalism.
We explored by bicycle first, over many separate trips riding further and higher until one Easter we found ourselves on unpaved tracks, carrying bicycles over snowdrifts towards forts guarding a border that no longer was. We ranged wider even as our targets became more focused, narrowed down to precise GPS coordinates, and with every cycle and drive and hike, every scramble through bushes or up snowless black runs during the worst ski season this millennium, the secret history of this deserted back country became a little clearer.
These bunkers were an extension of the Maginot Line, albeit a forgotten one, to defend the border with Italy, against the threat emanating from the rise of Mussolini’s Fascism. They were sited according to strategic objectives that first were difficult to grasp. But once you did, you could guess that if there was one block on this side of the road, there would also be one on the other, with its dull steel cloche turned towards Italy. They were protecting the passes and covering the valleys, making sure that the Italian soldiers did not overrun the border and march down the hill to take Nice, Marseille, France. Bunker research was a revelation: we realised that Southern Alps were not just a cyclists playground of paved cols, mule tracks and forestry roads, but a military conundrum full of strongholds and weak points, surprises and redoubts. There were even abandoned Italian bunkers that, thanks to a change in the border, were now marooned in France.
And many of roads we took, we eventually understood, were created by the army. Routes Stratégiques, the French call them. The most important were asphalted, but there remained a multitude of military supply routes – some from before the Second World War, to the time of Napoleon III or even hundreds of years before – that were now gravel tracks or hiking trails.
These Alps are peaceful now, and the concrete sentinels are slowly crumbling into dust. But riding the Alps like this is riding back in time. Because once you intuit the sheer number of installations there are crowding the hills, you realise that these roads are no longer innocent, and you are under surveillance. There are dead eyes looking down on you, tracking your progress, ready to fire down. It is as if you have been drawn into the conspiracy.
Stinner Frameworks is proud to announce our international network of retailers. While our unique order process allows us to dial in your Stinner's specs no matter where you live, we also understand that the in-person experience of ordering through a shop or fit studio has its advantages. For that reason, we have decided to partner with a small number of top-notch retailers across the globe. This allows us to expand the reach of the Stinner Experience, and continue to build world-class bikes for people all over the world.
If you have a shop you'd like to order your Stinner through but don't see them on the list, don't worry - we're happy to work with your preferred shop to ensure that the Stinner order process is as seamless as possible.
A RIDE FOR MEN’S MENTAL HEALTH
The Man Ride is a transcontinental collaboration of epic proportions. 16 guys, two continents, one goal – to raise awareness for Men’s Mental Illness. On October 13th, Black Sheep Cycling will be releasing a documentary about the ride and men's mental health issues.
For the complete website for this ride and collaboration between Black Sheep Cycling and Stinner Frameworks head to http://manride.blacksheepcycling.cc/ for information on men's mental health, striking images, and the soon to be released documentary.
The Man Ride is all about creating a conversation around male-focused mental health. 1 in 5 men suffer from some form of mental illness. Black Sheep and Stinner Frameworks now have a voice where people listen. We want and need to use this voice to help bring change. And we're not talking about change in the monetary sense. That's not why were doing this. We're talking about change socially and culturally.
Mental health issues are stigmatized. They're treated as a weakness or as an embarrassment, especially among men. But they shouldn't be. We should feel comfortable talking about our mental health issues. We should feel comfortable seeking help. We shouldn't feel embarrassed and we most certainly shouldn't be shamed. We're starting with The Man Ride.
The way we are going to do this is to get you talking. To get you to realize this is not a taboo subject. If this hasn’t affected you, it’s affected your mate. The culmination of the Man Ride, for this year, is in the documentary that Black Sheep Cycling will be releasing on Thursday, 13th October. A documentary that uses the backdrop of things that make us happy: riding our bikes and being around mates, juxtaposed against some very real and personal stories of the people that are close to us. This is our attempt to close the door on social stigmas in a way that just makes sense to us.
This is unashamedly all about the Man, and raising awareness of the growing rates of depression, anxiety, and suicide.
We care about every Man in the community. Young Men. Old Men. New Fathers. Old Fathers. High Achievers. Men in Rural & Remote Areas. Unemployed.
The rates of depression among men are scarily high and only increasing. This issue can no longer be ignored, and requires immediate intervention.
WHAT CAN WE DO?
The importance of exercise, for our group of motivated young males, is enormous. This is DIY mind health. Exercise releases chemicals like endorphins and serotonin that improves your mood. It can also get you out in the world, help to reduce any feelings of loneliness and isolation and put you in touch with other people.
Our mates are always the most important part. Whether it’s a boozy night out, going to the footy, or heading out for a ride, our mates get us away from the stress of life or into a zone where we can talk about the stuff that’s bugging us if we want to. Our mates also have collective wisdom. Sure some of them a stupid at some things and terrible at others, but they will all have shared an experience that we have not had. The hardest part is just talking to them at the start.
DROP THE ACT
The myth that men should keep their feelings to themselves is a load of crap. Look at the statistics about men and their minds and you will quickly find that you are not alone. Bottling up your feelings, not talking about the stuff that is stressing you out will just become a time bomb. You are not weak, you are not sick. You are a guy that is awesome at what you do that isn’t superhuman. Talking to the people that matter will make you feel so much better, and a little more awesome.
Men of Steel Australia Route and Roster:
AUSTRALIA OUTBACK – REEF
249km – Alpha
243km – Kilcummin
306km – Collinsville
158km – Airlie Beach
Adam Versteege (Men of Steel)
Daniel Pickering (Men of Steel)
Lachlan Davidson (Men of Steel)
Sam Gifford (Men of Steel)
Craig Mackie (Fusion Cycles)
John Polson (Co-founder, Black Sheep)
Michael Knoff (Solicitor)
David Withers (Architect)
MEN OF STEEL U.S. ROUTE AND ROSTER:
UNITED STATES: OREGON – SOCAL
151mi – Bodega Bay
155mi – Santa Cruz
136mi – Cabrillo Hwy
151mi – Aero Camino
Brandon Baker (Men of Steel US)
Tosh Clements (Men of Steel US)
Taylor Clements (Men of Steel US)
Danny Katz (Men of Steel US)
Alex Darville (Men of Steel US)
Stephen Leece (Men of Steel US)
David Priest (Men of Steel US)
Aaron Stinner (Stinner Frameworks)
Editor's note: What is it about those rock laden paths cut into mountainsides, ascending toward peaks yet seen? This is the first piece in a mini-series from cycling historian and writer Max Leonard that explores this question, a start to our Fall series. Perhaps, we must ask, if gravel is simply in road cycling's DNA. It's natural to lean toward adventure. It's natural to lean toward something that's not certain. Road racing as we know it doesn't exist without gravel roads. And chasing these ghosts became an inspiration for Max's own riding. But, first we have to look back at the the ghosts of gravel riders past: the early racers of Le Tour de France riding before much of Europe was even paved.
With that, Max Leonard (photos from Anttonn Miettinen
At 3pm on July 1, 1903, 60 men set off from the Au Reveil Matin cafe in Montgéron south of Paris, for the first stage of the first ever Tour de France.
It would take them to France’s second city, Lyon, and was 467 kilometres (290 miles) long. Given that Tarmac was not patented until 1901 (and by an Englishman), it is a fair surmise that not one of those kilometres was what we would now recognize as paved. In the first four hours, 20 men got off their bikes and abandoned. The organizers thought that the rest might arrive late in the afternoon the next day, but the lead man beat the reporter to the finish line, arriving at 9:01am.
A few years later, when the Tour went into the mountains, it got even worse. In 1910, just five weeks before the Tour’s first visit to the Pyrenees, not one of the 'roads' through the high mountains that year were part of the national road network. They were barely more than mule tracks, and the now-legendary Col d’Aubisque was considered impassable by cars: it was a logging track with deep ruts scored by oxen dragging timber.
Racing in those days must have been something. When he was interviewed in 1948 about his experiences racing at the turn of the 20th century, Arsène Millochau, the Tour’s first Lanterne Rouge, said: "Just think: my bike weighed 33 kilos. I had provided for all eventualities and had armed myself with several spare parts."
When asked what he thought of contemporary racers, he was dismissive: "Today’s Tour?" he said. "A walk in the park." And this was 1948!
Gravel in Europe
For a long time it seemed to me that in the UK or in Europe, we didn’t ‘get’ what has become known in the States as gravel riding. Maybe because we don’t, really, have any gravel as such. In Tuscany there are the strade bianche made famous by L’Eroica, forest tracks in Germany, greenways in the UK. Pists, paths and bridleways, dirt everywhere, and when it’s wet lots and lots of mud. But gravel roads as they seem to be in the US, not so much. We don’t have enough of the same wide open spaces, perhaps, the wilderness or the pioneer spirit, or something.
But a couple of years ago, for me at least, the idea came alive. It started with an attempt at the Col du Parpaillon, an infamous unpaved pass with a tunnel at the top, which is a holy grail for French randonneurs. That time, we got driven back by snow, but it opened up a new arena of discoveries – tracks that cross the valleys and ranges that feel like they haven’t changed for a hundred years. Old military roads along the French border in Italy, with forts dotted on every ridge, or the old road to the famous Col du Galibier, shorter and steeper than the current one, which is disappearing into the landscape. At Parpaillon I made the connection between exploring off the Tarmac and the history of riding and racing in the Alps.
Ironically, it was the Tour de France that promoted tourism and led to the development of the paved mountain passes we know and love. But take a modern ‘gravel’ bike and explore a little, and the roads of the past open up to you, and you feel like you could pass the ghosts of racers past around every corner.
Max Leonard is a prolific writer with a passion for cycling and its history. He has authored many books including Bunker Research, Lanterne Rouge: The Last Man in the Tour de France, and Rapha's City Cycling Guides. Besides ghostwriting other major bestsellers, Max has also written for Esquire, The Telegraph, Roleur, and Conde Nast. We here at Stinner are honored to have him riding a Stinner through the mountains of Europe, exploring the roads of history. Stay tuned for writings about his bike packing trip through the Alps, exploring the bunkers of a more dangerous time.
Words by Danny Katz with contributions from James Bellerue. Photo: Ashley and Jered Gruber.
A low sun emits grasping orange rays through a soft, opaque blue sky. Blustering winds disperse brown and yellow brittle leaves while soon to be barren tree branches shake, click, tick, and screech. Your morning coffee offers warmth against the outside cold, smooth rising wisps of steam stored internally, for later, as you swing a leg over your top tube. Skin tenses under the first dose of a slight chill, tires roll along over those fallen leaves, bike and body casting long shadows. Warmth revealed with each exhale.
On the coast, the ocean takes on an angrier sense. Foamy whitecaps hint at that latent churning sea, a darker blue contrasts with the grey, overcast sky that typifies our Santa Barbara mornings and closes our evenings.
The season is changing. It’s a time for ambling rides over roads you haven’t touched. Lungs burn with dropping temperature and we turn to vests, arm warmers, jackets and leg warmers. Morning spins are officially predawn, and after work rides true sun-chasers.
The dropping temperature lets you know: it’s coming. In Santa Barbara it’s not so rough, of course. Surf is improving, and rides are still temperate, just a bit less so.
There’s a satisfaction to work completed in this chill: wearing warm clothes while handling cold tubes, getting to the shop in the early light, shuttering the doors in the fading sun. A time for patience. A satisfying, accomplished fatigue.
Outside, the colors are warm, the last remaining life before winter. Fall has a sense of seriousness about it, though. There’s more darkness. Life around you readies itself for the long road. For some creatures it’s a time to power down, a sense of slowing to a near halt, the old dies so the new can be catalyzed to rebirth in Spring.
For the road racers, this means base miles. A time of patient fun, more social riding, storing potential energy, rebuilding. For the commuter, for the explorer, for others, it’s a time for inquisitive adventure, getting caught in the dark and secretly enjoying that you did.
You tolerate discomfort to reap rewards later, a mindset for the future.
For cross racers or mountain bikers and those of the off-road persuasion, this is your time. Of hero dirt, muddy bogs, sweat, grime, learning curves, gunked up everything, bloody shins, and, at last, a beer. It’s an hour of pain on Sunday, or a few hours of chill during night rides after work. Trails return to their sticky state under a canopy of trees, branches grabbing and snagging clothing, urging you to join them, to pause and listen.
But it’s quiet aside from your tires rolling over those brittle leaves.
Welcome to the Stinner focus on the Fall.
In the coming weeks, we’ll have features from Max Leonard as he walks us through the role of gravel in cycling’s history and how gravel culture in the United States has influenced riding abroad. He’ll then treat us to a story of single track adventure through the Alps, bike packing to explore the bunkers left over from a tumultuous past. After that we’ll transition to a feature on material, the great builders of Britain and Europe and Fall making.
We have special rides planned, content featuring the textures of the season and the feelings of Fall.
Stay tuned. Fall is coming.
In early Spring, we were lucky enough to have Alexis Ryan write a couple of powerful pieces on racing in Europe. In her second post, she eloquently captured those instantaneous, identity shaping choices made in oxygen debt that have the possibility of changing a career. The ultimate goal was to get at the heart of bike racing from a "why" perspective, the adventure, and randomness, the freedom while standing on a starting line of not knowing what was going to happen next. Sometimes bike racing can seem a bit sterile, but it's important to show the dramatic moments that inform so much of cycling's lore.
We recently spoke with Alexis while she was at her European home base in Girona, Spain, where she's spending time learning Spanish and waiting for the next two month block of racing before prepping for a potential selection for World Championships.
Our conversation turned to differences in race and riding cultures in the United States, why racing on hand-me-down bikes without hi-tech anything as a junior made her a better bike racer, and why the chaos of the Spring captures the essence of bike racing.
We hope you enjoy.
Stinner: How's it going, where are you right now?
Alexis: I've been in Girona for 2.5 weeks just training. On Tuesday I leave for the Sweden WorldTour race; there’s a TTT and a Road Race. Then the following weekend is another WorldTour race. And then 2 days later is the Holland Ladies' Tour which is 6 days, and then two days later is the Lotto Tour which is Four Days.
I’m living here now, so I need to make it home I’ve been taking Spanish lessons so I can communicate with people, though, they do speak Catalan here. I’m learning Spanish because I can use it elsewhere. But it’s funny. I’m learning Spanish but I go out into the world or outside the classroom, and I’m trying to listen to everyone and they’re not actually speaking Spanish. It’s a little confusing, because they all speak Spanish but they don’t like to use Spanish.
Stinner: We had talked before a little bit about the exchange of cycling culture between the United States and Europe. Gravel riding is kind of coming from the U.S. to Europe, but road racing in the United States is still modeled after the European racing. Do you see any of that cultural exchange in European racing?
Yeah, that got me thinking, what is different? It’s hard to pinpoint. And in Europe you have the history, there is a cycling culture. In the U.S. there is a cycling culture but it’s so new, so green, it really has no influence. It has influence from Europe, but, geographically, the United States is so far from Europe that it kind of taking on its own shape. The cycling world is influenced by culture by these old ideas and customs, and American cycling is influenced by cutting edge technology, but also trends.
For instance, in Europe, not so much on my team (CANYON//SRAM), but you have experiences with soigneurs who say you can’t get a massage after you just ate, because it’s bad for you. But why? It’s because their grandmother told them it’s bad for you. The air conditioning will make you sick.
What do you mean it will make you sick?We don’t think like that because we don’t have that kind of influence. As far as the riding itself, the gravel scene is definitely big in the U.S., you don’t have that here.
Stinner: Bike racing kind of exists on the fringe in the United States as it is. Did you always want to be a bike racer?
I started riding really young. When I first started racing I didn’t want to do it. I just did it because my dad drove me around to the bike races every weekend. So when I was a kid, I did enjoy it, I really liked mountain biking, though. I was a kid, I just wanted adventure. I still have that now, it’s just evolved.
I’m training and I can go on an adventure, but I have two 20 minute power tests I have to do. I just have to keep focused on training for the racing that I’m preparing for, rather than just appreciating going out and riding. And I still do appreciate it. I think all season, I get this build up, I’m just waiting to go out and ride because I want to.
I do want to do a gravel grinder, I just haven’t been able to do one. They always seem to happen when I can’t go out and adventure.
Stinner: When in life did you start thinking, "I like racing?"
The first time I won MTB nationals when I was like 13. I was not expecting it. The day before I had crashed in pre-ride. I just threw the biggest fit. "I hate this, I’m not racing." I woke up the next morning and my dad guilted me into it. “I paid for this, we’re all the way in Vermont.” You need to race.
So I raced and rode away from everyone and won. This isn’t so bad. That’s when I started enjoying the racing.
When I started riding for TIBCO, when I was a 17-18, I got to do professional races and really started to understand that bike racing was more than just suffering on a wheel. There’s strategy and that was a really fascinating aspect for me. And I got to ride with professionals with these women who had been doing it for ten years, and I was learning things and it was more than mindless riding.
You need to be strong, but that’s not the only thing that matters. you have to understand the art. I think when I realized it’s actually an art, I started to appreciate it.
Ha, you know when you’re told as a kid you can never mess up in art, there are so many different things that can happen before a finish line and all of them can work out. And it’s being able to read the race, to make the call that works for you. Cause what works for you…you need to learn to read a race in a way that plays to your strengths. You can be really smart, and you can have all these ideas. But if you don’t know yourself, and what you can do, then those things are never going to work for you.
STINNER: We often hear rumblings that bike racing is becoming too scientific almost, that art of bike racing you speak of is lost. But perhaps this starts at cycling's base, where so many people are reliant on power meters to get out the door. Do you think that you can appreciate that art with a reliance on power meters?
When I was growing up there were three of us [Alexis has two sibling, older brother Morgan and and older sister Kendall who races professionally on the TIBCO Women's Team] we didn’t have the resources, my dad didn’t have the money, to buy us power meters. I had a hand me down bike, so I never had access to the higher end technology. I had to learn to read my body and read a race and the decisions to make, how to mover around in a peloton to save energy and read other people and how they’re feeling. I never, I didn’t have technology to rely on, I just had to rely on myself. I felt that a lot growing up. I would see these kids coming into the sport with nice bikes and power meters, $10,000 set up and they’re 16 years old, and they can’t handle their bikes, they’re looking and listening for dad on the side of the road.
And I think maybe in the difference in U.S. culture, when you’re really young, in Europe, all the Dutchies and Belgians race Kermesses when they’re this big, and they just race. And they learn how to race before they get all technical about it. In Europe they learn etiquette, the rules of the peloton, and they learn respect, and there are all these intricacies of racing that are important to learn when you’re young or first starting. And I feel like because American culture, our racing culture is so green there’s no transfer of information. People get into the sport and just do what they want and then go over to Europe and wonder how they get their ass handed to them. They skipped that whole important subject.
STINNER: Is your team, with its Canyon and Rapha sponsorships gaining a following? What are you seeing in the way of fan support for women's racing in Europe right now?
Some organizations are better at promoting races than others. You have the Aviva Women’s Tour in England They always have the biggest crowds because of the way they promote. So there’s every school in the city out there, thousands of kids on the side of the road. They get the community behind it. As for the Dutch and the Belgian Races, some of the smaller ones you don’t get a huge turnout but you can get some good crowds, especially when the big races are run in conjunction with the men. You get people in the team areas, coming up, asking for your autograph, they have a picture of you from ten years ago, and you just think, where did you find this?! There are some super fans and people asking you for the jersey off your back. It’s getting more popular but . . . It helps to have certain organizations promote events. The organization that does the Aviva Women’s Tour seems to care more about promoting the race on the women’s side of it, than perhaps the ASO does with LA Course by Le Tour. We were in Paris a couple days before LA Course and a few people knew we were racing. But one guy asked us what we were doing there.
“Racing in the Tour de France.”
“Oh, there’s a women’s race?”
STINNER: On that note, how has the season been?
The team has been amazing. Spring was the most taxing Spring I’ve ever had. But I learned so much. You know I thought I knew a lot about bike racing, and intuitively I did. But I never would have made the progress I did if I didn’t make the sacrifice, sign with a European team and uproot my life to move over here and do 2.5 months straight of racing in the gutter. And it’s not even that I can tell you what I learned it’s more the feeling of racing. You don’t get that in the U.S. and I wouldn’t have gotten it if I came over here with the National Team for two weeks. It needs to be week-in and week-out, getting your head handed to you until you finally come to the conscious understanding of how to race.
STINNER: Between some of the biggest races in the world, getting to do Tour of California, and La Course by Le Tour among those, what's been your favorite type of racing so far?
I really liked the spring. I wish they had that style of racing in the U.S. You need the legs, you need the brains, you need the guts to do some of the crazy maneuvers. You can’t get it over in the United States because of the nature of the terrain and the roads. You don’t get small cobbled roads in California. I just don’t know what to tell you in terms of a specific race.
It’s like a feeling, the racing’s so aggressive in a way that U.S. races can never be. People just do off the wall stuff. And it’s totally normal. “Oh, she’s just going to attach up the curb.” Like up the sidewalk. She’s going to hop over a roundabout and then attack on this little road and you’re going to get flicked off into the ditch and land in a pile of cow shit. And it’s pandemonium. And I love that. I love that every Belgian race is just chaos. All spring. Whoever makes it through the chaos wins. I mean, it also doesn’t mean that whoever makes it through the chaos first comes out unscathed either. You can go through hell an entire race and win.
Epilogue: We hope to continue our conversations with Alexis on racing and culture, but ultimately, why we do it as well. Sometimes exploring other cultures helps us understand our own. Our conversation included a lot of topics we'd love to include in the future, from the books she's reading to more on the adventures of riding and racing.
The experiences of a pro cyclist, aside from the jet setting life (of sorts), are incredibly similar to those of us who try to sneak in predawn rides before work. The motivations and sensations are the same. Perhaps learning about the roots of cycling and racing can help us keep a bit of perspective.
Typography matters. Design matters. Here at Stinner, we're committed to building the most simple, functional, and beautiful bikes we can. It's what keeps us up at night, and what gets us up in the morning. Our frames' graphic design scheme plays into this - it's an essential part of every Stinner.
After many mock-ups and discussions, we've decided to slightly modify our logo moving forward. Namely, the 'STINNER' downtube logo will be a bit slimmer on all frames starting now. We feel that this aesthetic modification suits our frames, and makes for an even better-looking, more balanced graphic language.
If you've fallen in love with the way that Stinner frames currently look, fear not; the shift is subtle. But subtle matters, which is why we wanted to let you know.
Photos by Sterling Magnell
Team Rwanda is the most unique and important program in cycling. It is comprised of men and women with nothing to lose, truly, in a country still recovering from a terrible past. For the riders of Team Rwanda, cycling is a chance at a life and a job. But it might also be the greatest source of cycling talent we've seen in years, taking kids who were pedaling bikes all day as pedicabs, barely making enough to live, to pedaling bikes a few hours a day making quite a bit more. Only, it needs the right personnel, a group of people with deep experience in cycling but enough je ne sais quois to do it differently and understand that it's as much a process of training the technical aspects of riding as training the human side.
Not many people have enough race experience to fill that role and be willing to uproot their lives to move to Rwanda. But Sterling Magnell does and was.
Meet the new coach of Team Rwanda, Sterling Magnell. Aaron Stinner and Sterling actually go way back, having raced against each other in the NorCal junior racing scene. Sterling went on to join the Francais de Jeux development program and race professionally all over the world. The life of the starving bike racer was his. However, discontent rumbled beneath, somewhere, as he delved into art and fashion, and whatever else.
Now, Sterling has purpose. He sees the team as more than just an opportunity to create great bike racers, it's an opportunity to instill a sense of belonging and change worldviews. But he had to make the ultimate leap, a jump into chaos and the unknown for a group of people who, perhaps, deserve it most. Now, residing full time in Rwanda, Meet Sterling Magnell and Team Africa Rising.
*This interview was conducted via Email. The answers to each question were written by Sterling Magnell
How did Team Rwanda come to be?
The iteration of Team Rwanda the world is familiar with started 10 years ago. As you see in the film "Rising from the Ashes," Tom Ritchey convinced Jock Boyer to come to Rwanda and investigate the local talent and racing scene.
The country did have a bike racing culture prior, just on a very basic level. The Tour of Rwanda, for instance, used to literally be a tour of the dirt, or "red" roads, totaling 1000's of kilometers. It didn't become a UCI race untill 2008 or 09 I believe. Jock started with six riders, five of which are still either racing or working with the team. There has been a slow trickle of athletes added to the program since then with a marked acceleration in the past few years.
How did you find your way over to Team Rwanda?
Two years ago Jock called my Father and asked if I would be interested in coming over. My Father goes way back with both Jock and Tom. Tom is the one responsible for sparking and supporting the genesis of my own cycling career at age 12, so it all relates. Initially I dismissed the idea when my father relayed it to me, but I promised to think about it.
After a month of consideration and checking with peers that had been involved in past I was in. Before I came I decided I would give it three years at minimum. I couldn't find a single legitimate reason not to come and the idea of applying myself to facilitating the bike as a life changing vehicle for others, the way it has been for me I deemed a worthwhile use of my time.
What was the moment like when you decided you were doing this, moving to Rwanda and coaching this team? What did your friends and family think and did they understand your passion?
Liberating. I thrive on uncertainty and find my most creative sweet spot heading into the unknown where possibilities are conceptually endless and structure is at a minimum.
What are the goals, what does success look like for Team Rwanda, what do you want for your riders?
That's the million dollar question. On paper, my job, our jobs, is simply to develop the best athletes possible for the national team and to produce professionals ready to enter the sport on the international stage.
However, the bike is such a beautiful tool that I personally view success as anyone embracing it as a form of self discovery and growth.
How does your own cycling past inform how you help your riders?
In every way really . . . I've written about this in the past. Cycling changed my life. It's a forum that is very much romanticized, in my mind, as a human endeavor of expression, travel, and competition.
Cycling's almost as individual as hand writing. No two take to it quite the same. Because I've been at it for 20 years, I can be a very good technician in all aspects of the sport, but I view that as secondary. I consider cycling and my work with it's athletes as an art form. If I have to define my own career or what I do, I define it as art.
How would you describe your role with the team?
A little bit of everything. My official title is "Head Coach." Team Africa Rising is basically an NGO that does FERWACY's work for them. It's an ever tenuous relationship that ebbs and flows, challenging and political. So half of my work looks very much like functioning in a leadership role in an NGO, managing personnel, daily operations and problems ect.
We play musical chairs a bit, Jock has been here 10 years, his wife, Kim, 7. So when they take a little time off I have my hands full. When they are here they do a very good job of keeping me as free as possible to focus on the team and coaching them. But, throughout the year, I have to do a lot of context switching and wear a few different hats from week to week and month to month.
What's it like living and riding in Rwanda? Are there some major cultural challenges related to the team?
Not really. I love it. I'm not too enamored with the rainy season. I find it very accessible riding and training here.
For most part it's very safe. The biggest danger is the unfamiliarity that the public has with the speed and stealth that elite cyclist travel with. Villagers misjudging how much time they have to cross the road is a constant danger.
Rwanda is very densely populated, people are everywhere. It's impossible to be alone in this country. Any given day, on any given road, there are people walking everywhere.
What and who are your success stories, thus far?
That's something I should probably spend more time trying to quantify. I'm perpetually looking into the future, success stories are everywhere in terms of taking athletes that seem moderately good at riding a bike to dialing in their position, dialing in their training, and, then, six months later, seeing a whole new rider. But even with those case studies I don't think I have a single example of a rider who has gone out and reached the level of potential I see them having.
So my honest answer would be that, while I feel like I've made a lot of progress with the team as a whole, and with certain individuals, I don't believe I have achieved what I would call or qualify or quantify as success in terms of what I think is possible.
How does the genocide influence the riders and the country still?
It's an interesting question, contextually and simply from an anthropological curiosity about history and violence. I'm no authority on the matter and I think that it would be inappropriate for someone in my position to mold strong opinions about this part of history. But I personally see a lot of healing and resilience from the overt impact of those deaths had. The harder thing to look at is the mentality that allows events like that to seize a population in the first place.
There can be very dangerous thought patterns that lead groups of people to tragic places when the education and autonomy of individuals isn't well accounted for. I think that today with the options, technology and communication we have at our disposal, there is no excuse for that kind of thing to ever happen again.
The education and care of our next generation is them most important thing. The kids who are going to bare humanity into the next age and inherit everything we've done and built, that has to be our focus.
Where do you see the team going and what do you want to create, ultimately? What kind of races is the team doing now?
Ultimately, what I'd like to see is a culture of cycling that is run and supported locally without our input.
Everything that we do put together runs about $1M a year and we have 10 full time personnel at the Africa Rising Cycling Center. Cycling in Rwanda has a long way to go still. I think that we will be taking a long view approach in coming years like I mentioned earlier.
I'd like to focus on empowering the women getting into cycling and educating the youth to eventually see individuals that are talented athletes and good ambassadors for their country and humanity two, three, and four years down the road. I think it's absolutely possible we could see our current top talents solidifying themselves within the pro ranks and going to the Olympics in 2020. But I can also see them going on to do more than just "ride," on both the men's and women's side.
As far as the types of racing we're doing . . . I've been advocating for a shift from Africa Tour races that don't do enough to prepare us for the professional peloton to one or two big races a year, like the Tour of Colombia which we'd like to return to.
Mixed in with trips to the U.S. or the U.K. we're we can do these short forum circuit and criterium races that allow them to hone their skills without the fallout of a 200km stage. Racing for an hour at a time on the same corners around and around really gives you the chance to progress and try things, fail, and try again. We need that.
How does the team like traveling to races?
Less than you would think. I would say only 10% of my riders are truly excited to leave the country and embrace international adventure. There's a lack of understanding about the outside world and a lack of faith that there are things out there that they can employ to make their lives better or more enjoyable. Again it comes down to education.
I want to inject a clearer picture of what is out there and what is possible into the youth. I believe to truly grow we'll have to focus on education as a prerequisite to bike racing, not the other way around.
We often think of cycling as freedom. For these riders I'd imagine cycling is empowerment and freedom combined. Do you see major changes in your riders as they go through the system? What can cycling do for Team Rwanda and what can the cycling world learn?
No. Cycling has a very utilitarian place in Rwandese culture. Most of our athletes see it as a means to and end, a job.
When a kid goes from making very little money riding a bike all day as a taxi driver to making 100 times as much pedaling less than all day on a much nicer bike, most of them think that is as good as it gets and they they somehow deserved it. The reality is that there are 1000's of kids in this country that are eager for the opportunity, but the motivation is wrong. Re-framing cycling as a privilege and a vehicle into a free forum attack on life is going to take time.
There's nothing inherently wrong with using cycling as a come up. We all need to survive. It's almost impossible to put on the mindset of a poor kid in a village dreaming of having more than a few Almafaranga to rub together.
It's incumbent on us to portray a long term view of dedication and work, where success can be defined by the tangibility of financial stability and the intrinsic value of sport co-existing with each other.
The West projects an ideal that cycling has this novel quality for everyone. The starving artist, the broke bike racer doing it for love, that is a very Western condition. The motivation and sacrifices you see for riding the bike vary from place to place. You have to pay attention, ask questions and adjust.
Figuring out why you are doing what you are doing and why you want what you want is a door that opens into an endless world of existential questions, social science, behavioral science . . . many rabbit holes in many fields.
This is where my greatest passion lies, it's exploring these avenues. So I'm very happy to be right where I am doing work that maybe only I can do, right here, right now.
Editor: The Tour is over and Sky's winning methods were so calculated that they earned themselves an article on FiveThirtyEight, a website devoted to journalism rooted in statistics and data. Does this mean we will see less of the panache and romanticism in pro cycling that inspires our own riding ? The 2016 Tour de France may have been a calculated procession, but that doesn't mean the race wasn't beautiful. Geography and culture remains the maker of the race. So, where was it in this year's Tour? Max Leonard picked the 9th stage from Vielha Val d'Aran to mythic Andorra, featuring rain, wind, and hail. Read on below for Max's words on the strange roads of Le Tour.
Shangri-La was a mythical mountain kingdom in a lost Tibetan valley. It appeared in a book, Lost Horizon by the English novelist James Hilton in the 1930s, and has since passed into the common currency of our language to connote some remote, beautiful and peaceful paradise on earth. Andorra, which can only be reached by high passes (and, latterly, tunnels) from either France or Spain can seem like a kind of Shangri-La. Enclosed by the high peaks of the eastern Pyrenees – there are 74 peaks over 2,000m (6,500ft) tall squeezed inside Andorra’s borders – the territory tumbles down through forests and lush meadows to the capital, Andorra La Vella. Squeezed between valley walls, modern glass-and-steel buildings mix with traditional stone, and even near the centre you are not far from fields of sunflowers, vegetable plots and the tinkle of bells around the necks of farmyard goats.
Maybe that’s romanticizing it too much: Andorra is a tax-free principality, and consequently is a Shangri-La for those wanting spa hotels, discount alcohol and cigarettes, cut-price electronics and cheap gas; but there remains something magical about the mountain kingdom. Whether, as a cyclist, it seems like an earthly paradise very much depends on your attitude to climbing. There is not, I don’t think, a single kilometre of flat road anywhere. So for those of a certain disposition – and weight – it is a very attractive destination. Joaquim ‘Purito’ Rodriguez has been based in Andorra for years, and Dan Martin, formerly of Cannondale and now with Etixx-QuickStep, moved up the hill from the Catalonian town of Girona, last year.
If it’s a known outpost for a few pros, it’s still not all that well visited by the WorldTour. This year’s Tour de France stopped here on its way out of the Pyrenees, but that was only the fifth time in the race’s long history. The Vuelta a España, Spain’s Grand Tour, also came to town last year (ASO often trials stage starts and stage finishes in its other races before sending the Tour de France to town), but that was its debut visit to the principality. That stage – which was designed by Team Katusha’s Joaquim Rodriguez himself – was called by some ‘the hardest Grand Tour stage ever’. And, while there have been stages of the Giro d’Italia, as well as the Vuelta, which stand out for their combination of tough, steep climbing and terrible weather, but the 2015 Vuelta’s Queen stage – with 5,000m (16,400ft) climbing in 138km (86mi) and taking riders up to finish at 2,095m (6,900ft) – perhaps laid claim to packing in the most vertical gain per horizontal kilometre of riding.
Last year, Andorra held bad things for Chris Froome. A crash at the bottom of the first climb, the narrow, twisty Collada de Beixalis forced him to withdraw. He returned this July in the Tour de France’s yellow leader’s jersey – but the weather gods literally rained on his parade, as a torrential downpour, with hailstones the size of marbles, hit the riders at the stage finish at the Arcalis ski station. Just proving that, even in Shangri-La, it has to rain sometimes.
Over the past few weeks, we’ve been working on a special collaboration bike with cycling apparel company Rapha. Rapha and Stinner share a commitment to creating cycling products of the highest quality that also embody simplicity, which served as the impetus for this project.
We worked closely with Rapha to develop a design that pays homage to Los Angeles, a location both brands are closely tied to. Rapha opened a pop-up location in Los Angeles a few months ago, and being located in nearby Santa Barbara, we often travel to Los Angeles to ride and to check out the city. This mutual connection to Los Angeles inspired this collaboration and fueled the design process.
Once we had this initial concept in mind, we got started with the fabrication of the frame. The process starts with our Stinner Select Tubing, which has been chosen for its blend of light weight, responsiveness, and strength. We precisely cut, miter, and fit every tube before it is welded. We then join the frame tubes via TIG welding using industry best practices, being careful to check alignment of the frame at key points along the way. By working stepwise throughout the welding process, post-weld corrections are minimized.
After completing the fabrication of the frame, we worked closely with Rapha to turn an initial design inspiration into a detailed paint mock-up. The paint scheme uses elements of the city map of Los Angeles, and is inspired by the classic aesthetic of early- to mid-century LA.
Once the design was finalized, we got to work on the intricate paint job. Due to the complexity of the masking, the combination of a matte and gloss finish, and the paint on the bars, stem, and seatpost, the paint job took approximately 60 hours from start to finish.
Finally, we built the frameset with care once the paint had cured. The build features a full Shimano Dura Ace gruppo, matching PRO components, and Enve rims built by Jones Precision Wheels. Needless to say, we are extremely thrilled to have been able to work with Rapha on this project!
Local Santa Barbara elite cyclist Alex Darville is making moves. At the age of 22, he’s already had an illustrious career on the road and track, and he’s now looking towards the 2020 Olympics as he shifts his focus nearly exclusively to track racing. Before he departs Santa Barbara to move to Colorado Springs to train, we rode from the Stinner HQ over to a local coffee shop, where we talked about Alex’s riding and racing background, his cycling goals, and the state of the sport. Needless to say, we are extremely proud that Alex is riding and racing a Stinner road and track bike.
Mark Edwards: How did you first get into cycling? What was your introduction to the sport and to the hobby?
Alex Darville: My dad used to race, so he got my brother and I road bikes when we were 13 or 14, and then we started riding. Then I started racing when I was 15 or 16. It progressed from there, I started getting a little more into it, a little more serious. I got invited to a few European trips with the Junior national team, and then ended up going over there with the U23 national team as well. I was able to do the 2 world championships as a junior which was amazing. That was actually the first year that they combined it with the pros as well, it had been separated for a while. So it was cool seeing them race. That’s kinda how it started I guess, a slow progression into it. Then Rory [O’Reilly], my first coach - he was a 1984 Olympian - he was really into the track, and so I’ve been doing that since I was 16 as well. We used to go down every Thursday to Encino and ride the track.
Before getting more serious bikes, we used to ride these POS mountain bikes from Kmart or something like that. We used to watch the Tour in the Lance days, and then go take our bikes and ride up and down the street. The whole Lance Armstrong era was a big influence on riding for me, I have to say (laughs).
So what made riding stick for you initially? Were you getting results from the get go?
Honestly, not really, I wasn’t great at the start. I was just suffering in the races and that was basically it, I didn’t really know what I was doing. Then I think I just hit a growth spurt or two, was getting into racing more, and with the right direction with coaches and the team it was a perfect atmosphere to progress.
These days, are you shifting your focus from the road to the track?
Yeah it’s definitely a change of focus. A fairly big one, I guess, but I feel like it’s naturally come about for me because with the track, it seems like every effort I put into training actually correlates to doing well in the races. I think the road is a tough place. You just need to have so much momentum on your side - you have to be on the right team, you have to do the right races, and once you lose that momentum (which I kind of did) - you miss a selection or two, you crash in a race - the momentum just sputters out. So it’s definitely a change of pace for me but I’m looking forward to it and I think it’s going to be good. With the track, it’s so much more simple. Every effort you say to yourself “OK, I’m going 100%”. For a 1k TT, you know it’s going to take a little over a minute, you know exactly what the effort is like.
It has to be a somewhat difficult time to look towards the track. This year, the US is only sending one men’s track cyclist to the Olympics, right?
Yeah. The previous president of USA Cycling cut the men’s team pursuit squad - it is expensive to run. They didn’t cut the women’s squad because they’re kick-ass and they’re world champions right now. They seem to want to revive the men’s program, but there’s not enough incentive for the Pro Tour guys to want to jump on the track. In Great Britain they’re lottery-funded so they can pay them, and they can just try to work to get medals. They have two staffers for every single rider or something like that, so in the US there’s a little less support. It’s not anyone’s fault, it’s just the way that it is.
The 2020 Olympics must be on your mind then?
For sure, that’s the goal. 4 years. I think I can do it. That’s why I’m moving to Colorado. I have to go there to pursue that goal. It’s just about putting yourself in the position where everyone around you will be a positive influence to make it happen.
I’ll be doing a lot of racing and training leading up to it. There’s the NTC (National Track Calendar), and I’ll be doing some of those events this year in Colorado Springs. That’ll be good. Then hopefully I’ll go do Pan-Ams, the main thing will be meeting the time standards. And then, going and hopefully doing the World Cups. Then in 4 years, qualify for the Olympics.
You were in London doing a U23 three-day event pretty recently - how did that go?
That was in October of this past year. It started out well, I came in having done some good work on the road in terms of short intense efforts, doing a lot of good sessions. We went to London and on the first day got third, we actually were really close to winning. We were close to lapping the field in the Madison, but we just didn’t have the power right at the end and there was a sprint coming up. Every 20 laps there’s a sprint so the whole pack gains a lot of speed, so we wound up getting third in that. The next day, I just made the mistake of choosing a bad line. There was a rider who had just pulled off in front of me after he swung his partner. He was looking up the track and started heading up the track, and I decided to take the inside line. I wound up clipping him fast, and went down pretty hard. The next day, after the crash, I just wasn’t there mentally. I was following wheels for a while, we were still doing pretty well, but I ended up having another crash. It was almost nightmarish, but that’s the way it goes sometimes, it happens to everyone, it’s just the way it is. I hate to say this but there are some pretty amazing crashes on the track, the pictures can be incredible.
Going backwards a bit, why do you think the track program in the US is so much smaller relative to some other programs like in the UK or Australia?
I think it’s basically because it’s not a lottery-funded Olympic program. There’s just not money there. When you can throw cash at something, these problems just go away. And at the same time, after 2008 they cut a lot of the events in the Olympics and they put more emphasis on the Omnium. I’d like to think it’s more than a matter of money, but maybe it’s just that. When the US Pro Tour riders have lucrative deals on massive teams, they just aren’t going to want to ride on the track when there isn’t funding there. There’s a certain point when you have to ask yourself “what am I suffering for?” if there’s a slim chance of doing an event like the Olympics, and you could be making a living on the road.
It seems like things are picking up though. The new President of USA Cycling is into track cycling, and you can win more medals on the track since there are more events. It’s also easier to pick out the talent. If someone can hit a certain time, they should be able to get a certain result. It’s a little more cut and dried.
You are really focused right now, you’ll be training and going to school at University of Colorado Colorado Springs and working hard at both. How do you plan to stay motivated and unwind while balancing all of that?
I think that it’s easier on the track than the road, actually. It’s such a bubble of intensity and once you get off the track you can just let it go. You switch your mind to recovery, so it’s not too bad. When it comes to de-stressing, honestly I think school will help with that. And then when I’m not training or studying, I want to explore Colorado. I didn’t really get to do that last time I was training there, but it’s a beautiful place so I’m looking forward to that.
Thanks Alex! Best of luck from all of us here, we are excited to watch your progress from Santa Barbara in the coming years.
Editor's Note: This is a big week for Stinner's Focus on Racing. On one side of the world, we have the Giro. Here in California, we have the Tour of California where the queen stage finishes on an iconic climb in Santa Barbara known as Gibraltar road. We see the racing and the beauty and the fanfare. But we don't see how these racers got there. Author Max Leonard takes us to an almost mystical training ground for many of the top pros. Meanwhile, later this week, we will focus on the nuts and bolts of racing.
On the Spanish island of Tenerife, in the Atlantic somewhere near Africa, rises the world’s third largest volcano, El Teide. And, at an altitude of 2,150m (7,000ft), stranded in the lava fields on the final slopes up to the 3,718m peak, there’s a hotel. Lower down, the red-rocked scenery resembles the Arizona of the Grand Canyon. Up top, it tends towards the desolate, the extra-terrestrial. The hotel at the end of the world, you might say; or rather, at its beginning.
Teide’s last eruption was in 1909 (it is currently running behind schedule with its next), and so the land to the south west, which was formed as lava cooled from that eruption, is new rock, some of the newest rock on the planet. In that hotel, some of the world’s top cyclists – four WorldTour teams in all, and several loners – are staying. It has become the world’s premier venue for cyclists on altitude training camps.
They flock here because of the height, yes, but also for proximity to sea level.It is around 45 kilometres (28 miles) down to the sea, which means that it is an easy descent to good training roads: while sleeping high is good, too much time at elevation actually has a detraining effect. There is not enough oxygen to put in the big power efforts, and so muscles start to atrophy.
Why do it then? The main reason altitude training works – or at least, the main thing that cyclists currently use it to achieve – is to increase red cell mass. Sleeping and recovering in thin air stimulates the production of red blood cells, increasing the body’s oxygen-carrying capacity and therefore its ability both to perform and recover. There is also the important process of adaptation: start racing without spending any time at altitude and you lose 7% of your power for every 1,000 metres you climb. The big Tours are decided in the mountains, and the upcoming Giro features 10 passes over 2,000m – so contenders had better be ready. What is it riders actually do at an altitude camp? Nothing, pretty much.
For some teams, calisthenics together in the blue dawn; for others, early weights sessions; but mainly, the answer is nothing. Smash yourself on a ride, and then sit around on the hotel furniture and use the wireless (here, unusually, very good). Rent a movie on iTunes, perhaps, as you wait for your blood cells to multiply. Exactly how effective is altitude training? It’s difficult to say, since it affects every person differently and the most advanced experimenters – pro athletes and teams – rarely release their data.
Much of the beneficial effect can also be attributed to simply having nothing to do than focus on your riding and eating – doing what you’re told, in other words. It’s a mystic science that is oddly suited to this harsh, otherworldly desert. An act of faith that will only be repaid, weeks later, in the crucible of a Grand Tour ascent.
Postscript: Enrico Gasparotto, the Wanty-Group Gobert rider, was one of the riders on Teide that week. The weekend after he descended he won the Amstel Gold Race for the second time.
Machines for Freedom resides in a part of the cycling market that is grossly under-served: women's cycling clothing. Being a male dominated sport, most apparel has been driven by this market. And, one could say, naturally, "such is the market." Of course, the market will also stay stagnant until there is clothing that female cyclists could actually wear. Yet, as more women are join the sport, it seems only wise for big brands to start making clothing that women might like and wear.
But, there was something missing, still, a stitch in many women's sides, if you will. And, worse yet, if you were a woman not on a race team, the few kit options out there weren't exactly stylish.
Meet a cyclist named Jennifer Hannon, who would go onto start Machines for Freedom a clothing company just for female cyclists. Jenn hadn't been riding all her life, only finding cycling in adulthood. Perhaps it took this outside perspective to see that the norm wasn't acceptable. There was no reason to merely accept the options available sacrificing so much style for a kit that felt but ok.
Machines for Freedom has been seeing success in other ways besides selling apparel (and perhaps the most important way): creating a community of women around the brand who ride together.
Besides the name of her company, our brands have some latent commonalities that might be hard to express. We couldn't feel more proud having Jenn part of the Stinner community. Her new Stinner reflects her own style, doing what is classic a bit differently, taking something so simple and making small changes that alter so much.
We had a bit of a chat with Jenn about her cycling history, style, and what led her to taking a massive risk to start a company, though, a company that is direly needed.
STINNER: How long have you been riding? What got you into it?
Jennifer Hannon: I have been riding for about 6 years. It all started when a friend coerced me to train with her for the Cool Breeze Century in Ventura and by our second weekend training ride I was hooked. Riding quickly became part of my everyday routine, and when I found myself getting up at 5:30am just to squeeze in ride time before work I knew I had found my sport. I have never been a morning person, and here I was getting up before the sun just to stick with my training plan. I barely recognized myself!
STINNER: What did you notice about clothing right away, or the bike market in general?
When I first started riding I remember buying clothes out of necessity. I loved the sport, needed clothes to ride in, but wasn't all that enthused about what I could find. I wasn't part of a race team or club so I didn't have a predetermined kit I was supposed to wear. I had trouble finding kit that fit my sense of style so I ended up buying just enough clothes to get by.
What was the sort of "light bulb" moment that caused you to start a clothing company? What were you doing before and how did you put all your resources into that?
I started to think about kit while working with Steven Carre at Bike Effect on my bike fit. I was having a lot of saddle discomfort so I worked with Steven over the course of several sessions to dial in my saddle selection and placement. We tried a few different saddles, made micro adjustments to my fit, and while all of these things improved comfort there was still room for improvement. I was still having soreness and problems with saddle sores on long rides. Then Bike Effect got this rad piece of software that allows you to pressure map your saddle. You essentially see where the pressure points are to determine if your saddle is in the right position or if there is pressure being applied in places you don't want it to be. Long story short, these pressure maps also helped us see how the chamois did not protect my seat bones. I tried on different shorts, with different chamois, and my seat bones always seemed to be skirting the edge of the pad. It was this discovery process that got my wheels turning. The idea was born out of desire for more comfortable kit, and evolved to explore questions of aesthetic, personal style, and vibe within the community.
What was your design philosophy going in, and how has it evolved? Or what has the focus been since starting the company?
When I started Machines For Freedom, I was really interested in exploring the intersection between femininity and athleticism. I was also interested in finding ways to make technical clothing feel feminine without relying on graphics and color, especially when it comes to basics like bibs.
If you think of something like jeans, for example, it's pretty unlikely that you would ever be confused men’s and women’s. Though the pieces are the same color and fabric, there are key differences in fit and style which indicate which by type they are for. When it comes to cycling kits, however, my husband and I were constantly mixing up our kits because they looked so similar. If you create something designed for a woman's body, there's no reason it should find its way to the wrong side of the closet.
What about Stinner attracted you? How does it relate to your style decisions? And how did you decide on the type of bike you wanted Stinner to build?
I have always loved Stinner's minimal aesthetic and sophisticated sense of color. Really bright colors on bikes have always intimidated me. For one, because I imagine having these bikes for years, decades even, and knowing how my tastes change over the years I tend to gravitate towards simplicity. I also feel added pressure when riding a bright, flashy, bike. Like, I better be fast! I guess I like to keep by bike style pretty low-key, so I have always admired Stinner's paint schemes and color choices. And I love the clean lines of a steel bike! Feels classic.
And when it came time to build the bike, I knew exactly the type of bike I wanted. I already have a snappy carbon bike that I love, but that poor bike has been through the ringer on some pretty epic mixed terrain courses. If I cracked the frame I would be heartbroken so I wanted a bike that was a little sturdier. Going into the process I was a little nervous about steel. I had never ridden steel before and I was worried about weight. At 5'-11" I don't exactly have a petite climber’s frame, but I love to climb and didn't want to feel extra drag. I have to say I am so impressed with the result. I took the bike out for its first spin today and didn't feel weighed down at all.
How has the company evolved and where do you want it to go?
The company has evolved from a singular point of view, my own, to a blend of each person that is intimately involved with Machines For Freedom's growth. Because we are small, there are no cogs in a big, well-oiled, machine. Everyone's personality and creativity plays an integral part in creating the brand story. I think that has been the most interesting part of the process. It's no surprise that people often compare starting a business to raising a child. You have dreams, aspirations, and goals. You instill values and try your best to make decisions that send this young thing down the right path. But no matter how hard you may try, you never have complete control. This thing you have created starts to take on it's own momentum and it’s your job to guide it. As for where I want it to go? I want to see us continue to grow, play, experiment, push boundaries. In general, keep having fun!
Tour of California is special to Stinner, for obvious reasons. This year, and for the first time, a stage of the race finished atop Santa Barbara's iconic climb, Gibraltar Road. The local cycling community turned out in droves to experience the race on a mountain that seems to rise straight from the sea. It is this locality that is special. We were there with our friends to see some of the best in the world conquer our local measuring stick. And it was a great stage, a great experience, that brought everybody from the cycling community to the mountain road we love.
Bike racing, when it's in your hometown, is special.
Paul Mach was a PhD student at UC Davis, studying applied math. He was also racing professionally, at the time, for U.S. powerhouse, Bissell Pro Cycling. Two completely different worlds, two completely different callings. For one day, those two worlds merged. In 2010, Paul was racing the Tour of California for his Bissell Team. On the first day of the race, he made the day's breakaway and won enough points to be the leader of the King of the Mountain's jersey. The next stage started in Davis. Called to the line at the start, in the KOM jersey, in front of his family, friends, training partners, and academic adviser, he got to show what all those crazy training rides were about.
But by 2012, Paul was ready to move on. He became the director of Strava Labs working as an engineer before moving on to other exciting ventures.
For this focus on racing, we chatted with Paul about what it's like to be a bike racer in the United States, what being a bike racer did for his life, and why he decided to move on. Most importantly, we talked about the community of the cycling world, how much bike racers truly love racing, and how racing shaped his identity.
Meet Paul Mach.
Stinner: So, how did you get your start in racing?
I went to UC Davis for grad school, I ran there for a few months [Paul ran varsity track as an undergrad] and realized flat farm roads were boring. There was a cycling community there, and I had some interest in riding a bike before that. I had ridden a little bit as an undergrad, but it was always like, “Hey, I like riding bikes,” but never like, “Hey I want to race bikes.”
UC Davis has a really strong collegiate team but grad school the first few years is pretty tough. As coursework went down, I had more flexible schedule to ride more. And each year I got a little more serious, a little more serious.
How did you justify racing to your academic advisors?
I did have a very flexible advisor, he was pretty open. And I did a pretty good job of generating progress, maybe not quite making as much progress as if I was working on it full time, but I think I picked the right advisor.
But once I got the climbing jersey at Tour of California, the next day started at UC Davis, and he was there, that was when he realized this wasn’t just something I did for fun . . . . well, it’s for fun, but it’s not just something that’s not going anywhere. That’s when he realized it was...it’s kind of interesting. He’s from France, so he understood the concept of the climbing jersey. Once he saw me there, he got it.
You were going to school still while racing on Bissell?
Yes. So that was good and bad. For the first few years, it kind of worked out. In Grad school, those years three and four, are just kind of like…you’re trying to figure stuff out, see where this going, when I was focused a lot on cycling. The flexibility was there not like years 5 and 6, where we need to have some sort of plan, so there was pressure from my advisor, from me. Not explicit pressure, but you can’t be 100% at both cycling and research. That’s definitely when my cycling performance went downhill. The stress of grad school catching up.
By 2012, when I was on Kenda Pro Cycling Team, it was less fun. 2010 was my best year. I had really good training partners, we were riding every week. By 2011, 2012, those people graduated, and moved on or were in the same situation, focused more on getting the degree done. It did become less fun at that point. And there was a choice to be made. Do I want to go to Europe? But that was never really something that I thought was worth it. Especially because I had so much going for me on the education front and I’m not going to give that up to get my teeth knocked in, in Europe. It just didn’t make sense.
When you were on Bissell, what did the other guys think?
I think it was different outlook. Bissell had better funding, so there were some guys who had been in the sport a long time, but to be honest, it really felt like high school or college. It’s like a four year thing. After four years of college you’re ready to move on. You thought it was theawesomest thing ever freshman year but after four years, I’ve been there done that. I’m ready to move on. I definitely felt that. A lot of the people who stayed are people who could be in college forever. I definitely started feeling that towards the end. Some of the maturity a little bit. Just from the jokes to the outlook, that five year plan. I’m married, I got think about a five year plan. They weren’t thinking that far ahead.
I was still cycling focused, I needed to show my value to the team and I was trying to do that. There were people on the team, on Bissell who were younger who had it, easy in a way. On Kenda, it was more scrappy. It didn’t have the funding, it was really good but guys had jobs, and for instance…Phil Gaimon was on the team running a clothing company at the time, everybody else was doing construction in the winter. Almost more like real life experience. They were willing to do whatever it took to race. I actually felt like more of a team there. I respected those guys a lot more, for the effort put into the sport.
So nobody really "got it."
On Bissell, nobody really got it or cared. There were a few times where I tried to mention an interesting tidbit, and it was like, almost laughed out, but on Kenda we had Roman Kilum. He’s a lawyer [he had graduated law school from a prestigious university and passed the BAR by this point] and he would always use his lawyer skills to argue with you. They were intelligent people and they respected it. They didn’t have money, but they were smart, particularly how to scrape the money they needed to be bike racers.
What was the moment you were like I need to go move on? Or was it the team folding?
Kenda was my last year no matter what. My wife wa pregnant and I just knew in ten years do I want to be the guy with the PhD, working on cool stuff, or do I want to be the guy who almost kind of made it on the domestic team, and almost kind of made it in Europe. The best future for me , and I learned and developed a lot while racing, but the best future for me and my family was capitalizing on the education I got. I was fortunate in everything that happened to me, it’s lucky in some sense.
At the end of the day I saw the value in my PhD was higher to me. Do I want to be Dr. Mach, or do I want to be that guy was pro five years ago? I want to be Dr. Mach.
Are you glad you did the bike racing thing still? Would you do it all over again?
Oh Absolutely! Yeah. Bike racing…you really build a community. Bike racing is unique in that you build a community. You train with guys all the time, you go to races, it’s a team sport. Like, how do you get to the races (especially when you’re new), what will you do about clothing, how do you figure out stuff…With the college experience too, you get to a race, a race weekend, the racing is just a small part of the stuff that goes on. That thing that goes on. When I raced track, it wasn’t quite the same camaraderie. I made a lot of friends through that.
What do you think, for most people…do you think they let it go too far?
Yeah, I think, there’s people that go through college and whatever and can make it work. And there’s people who go through that and can’t make it work, because they need to spend extra time in the books or they’re distracted by other parts of college life for better or worse. If you want to be a cyclist, you can fit in the time around your books, I firmly believe that.
So it did provide…being able to strike a balance is easier said than done, and my position was easier than some other situations, but striking a balance, even academically, if you have this sport, it helps both sides of it. Until you go too crazy on one side.
Can you imagine just being a bike racer?
I thought about that long and hard. Even as an undergrad when running track. What would it be like if I didn’t have to go to class? Could I just run and lay on the couch? All that stress…Almost for me being a student athlete, for ten years of my life I was a student athlete. I almost couldn’t separate it. What does it mean to lay on the couch? My brain couldn’t shutdown like that. Other teammates could. They’d go ride then watch Netflix all day long. The person who is satisfied doing that is different than somebody who I want to be. Whether that means having school of side hobbies. It doesn’t have to be a job, just something else.
Erik Joule: At Strava, I was fortunate enough to work alongside you. You were highly focused on your work, highly industrious. You inspired and led. Do you think your background in bike racing has influenced how you behave within an organization?
I never really thought about it that way. To be a bike racer, what you do, is you go out every day, you have to be motivated. To go out and ride hard the next day, you know you’re doing the similar ride you did last week, the similar training you did last year, you have to be disciplined, long term focused, develop long term perspective. At work, there’s this longer term perspective, let me put in the work now to make that better in later phases of that project. How do we lay a strong foundation. That points to cycling training, to base miles and building. I mean, it’s kind of like a chicken-egg problem. Did cycling teach you how to be self-disciplined and motivated? Or are you already that way and that draws you to cycling? Something makes, even that guy that rides his bike for four hours then does nothing but lay on the couch the rest of the day, something makes that person go and ride hard again the next day.
At work, there are things you want to push in three months and problems you want to solve in three years, or five years, or longer. I guess growing into solving or having those longer term problems, cycling may help with that.
Epilogue: Whether you're a bike racer or not, cycling shapes our identities. Certainly, there is a time and place for our passions, and they can be formative. For racers, especially in the United States, it is a passion for cycling, more than anything else, that keeps them training and racing, even when the money isn't there. At the end of the day, all cyclists seem to have some underlying trait that pulls them together. And these traits show up in the workplace and in our hobbies. We owe Paul a thank you for providing some perspective on bike racing and being a cyclist in general.
Despite different interests and backgrounds, out on the bike with our people, words flow and things just work. Disparate ideas suddenly fit together, as if puzzle pieces that just needed to be turned and flipped and oriented correctly.
How lucky are we to have found this?
Now, imagine, you’re a kid or young teen. With no productive community that you can merely slide into, what are your options? You’ve been classified as “at risk,” but really you’re nervous or bullied or controlled by much bigger things that a kid can’t imagine fighting against, trapped in your head with nobody around. What if we could nudge these kids into the community of bikes? What if you could teach them about the satisfaction that comes from working on bikes? In fact, recent research has shown a relationship between cycling and improved outcomes for youth diagnosed with ADHD. But how do we immerse them into this thing in which we all so believe?
Meet Zack Bertges, founder of the Santa Barbara based Riviera Youth Bike Team (RYBT). Zack graduated from UCSB and started coaching triathletes, himself an ironman triathlete and cyclist.
Move to May 2014. Zack was happy with his coaching but a mysterious latent void crept into his life. On May 23, his fellow Gaucho & SB community was rocked when a shooter killed six people in Isla Vista, the little town near UCSB where much of the student body lives. Zack felt a sense of hopelessness and dread. After searching for answers, and hearing about the buildup to the events, Zack eventually discovered a potential to connect his skillset to something more important. He began examining mental health resources in effect.
This is how RYBT came to be. Zack wanted to extend what he saw in his athletes to troubled or at-risk kids. Working with local organizations such as Child Abuse Listening Mediation (CALM), the Center for Alcohol Drug Abuse (CADA), the Franklin Youth Center, and local Boys and Girls clubs, he takes at risk kids from 10 to 13 years old (who often don’t know how to ride a bike, at first) and trains & coaches them to ride one California’s best cycling event, the Santa Barbara 100. *
Along the way, they learn how to ride in a group, about the fundamentals of training & community cycling, and how to work on their bikes.
* After this interview was conducted, Zack was invited and accepted to the board of the Santa Barbara 100, in recognition for his commitment to youth cycling and collaborations amongst the Santa Barbara community.
Stinner: So, how does this all work?
We’re currently offering three types of programs, and in-process of structuring to operate year-round. We have a “SB100 August program” that trains new riders to complete the 34 mile route at the SB100 in October, a “May Gibraltar Team” program that trains graduates of the SB100 team to climb Gibraltar, and we have a “March Fitness Prep” Program, that allows for kids to be automatically accepted into the August program, by attending various workouts in Santa Barbara from March-May.
How do kids find you?
We start with CALM, which is a center for kids that are experiencing difficulties in life, or facing challenging family situations, and/or abused. They’re one of our major forwarder for kids, but we also have relationships with the Center for Alcohol and Drug Abuse (CADA), Franklin Youth Center, Big Brother Big Sisters, and Boys & Girls Clubs.
What RYBT is, is the next level of community building from awesome youth/non-profit centers to cycling. We have plenty of organizations that focus on kids & their mental well-being. On the cycling front we have such a strong community, from the local bicycle shops to groups like Echelon Santa Barbara who sponsors the team, and the Santa Barbara bike coalition, which is our fiscal sponsor.
And why the cycling community?
First, our cycling advantages in SB is awesome. We get to ride bikes year-round? From the beach to the mountains in 6 miles?? It’s amazing! Second, in the last three to four years, there has been a large amount of research produced on the benefits of cycling for kids, especially troubled or challenged kids. We’ve really been trying to take this research to the next level, and not just embrace it, but help move the ideas and potentials forward for everyone. The Specialized Foundation is doing the same, which has put a lot of money into researching kids with ADHD, and they’re helping to discover and produce the quantifiable advantages of kids riding bikes. Socially, the country is coming on-board, too- the NFL just donated 200 bikes to the local Denver area at the Superbowl, which is great, and we have organizations like Plus 3 Network that are moving dollars from corporations to charities for common fitness activities. The NFL has the capacity to do more, but it’s going to take groups like RYBT, Specialized, and local programs and coalitions to keep the momentum going. And getting more corporations involved is part of that process.
Obviously, it’s a good cause, but what were some of the moments that led to finally just putting everything into this?
We all experience grief and hardship at different points in our lives, and I think I reached a new level of awareness a couple years ago. Events and frustration kept adding up. For instance, from when I was 4 until 9 years old, we lived in Newtown, Connecticut, near where the Sandy Hook shootings occurred in 2012. When Sandy Hook happened, in addition to the horrifying thoughts of what occurred, it rattled my family, and I because we remember, we’ve experience Newtown in it’s innocence, a place and time where my sister and I used to run-around freely. Then here in Santa Barbara we had the Isla Vista shooting in 2014, another place where I used to run-around, just a couple decades older. And in-between, I started realizing more about the fragility of life, coming to an age where I hear more about or witness friends or colleagues mishandling stress, hurting themselves, hurting others. And, I started wondering about how to address these mental health questions from a perspective that I might be able to help someone, sometime, with what I know. After enough events, enough heartache, my thoughts changed to action, planning, and some trial & error. I had to figure out what starts with kids mentally, at the youngest age that some random 29 year-old athlete, could access them, and try to inspire enough for assist them on their positive journey of life. I wanted to teach them to manage life stresses, how to engage with athletes who may appear to be intimidating, and I wanted them to feel comfortable getting support in cycling or triathlons.
When Isla Vista happened I had a thought and decided to pair the adult triathlon team I started with Boys & Girls Clubs. We hosted monthly activities where our athletes helped the kids do something triathlon, or swim/bike/run related, while meeting some bad-ass & inspirational adults who were training for Ironman triathlons. It was an awesome experience. While I was doing this, I met Christine Bourgeois of the Santa Barbara Bike Coalition. And then, last March Christine got a call from a local family foundation in town that has supported a similar bike program in Arizona for the past nine years, and we got connected.
So, that’s where it started.
Yeah, it was amazing timing. I had raced in three different countries for three different Ironman races, but I was my own coach, my own boss, and I wanted to be training for more reasons. I was just thinking, “man, I need to find something for a good cause, something that I can share my life with.” Being a young or old athlete can be pretty inspirational for younger audiences.
So, Christine called me one-day to introduce the potential of collaborating & building off of the Arizona program, and invited me to meet and hear more at Bici Centro (the local coalition bike shop) at an education committee meeting. When I heard more about the potential to work with bullied and/or challenged kids, and that this program needed someone to run with it…it struck a chord. I was bullied as a kid, too, got into a lot of fights when I was in that age range, and it was like, “holy shit, I can do this”, and I know what the kids are feeling. It was one of the easiest decisions I’ve ever made.
What’s the first day like for the kids?
There’s a lot to it, but we tackle the program in a couple ways- a Tuesday gym class, Thursday spin class indoors, and then we do Saturday rides together. The gym and spin classes gets the kids moving, teaches them the pedaling motion. Then on Saturdays, for the first couple weeks, we start in parking lots where we do drills and skills with three additional coaches and myself; we are all certified instructors from the American League of Bicyclists. We use an ALB curriculum to teach the kids to behave on their bikes, to turn, brake and signal. With the community support, sponsorships, and fundraising efforts, we buy all the kids brand new bikes and helmets and the jerseys. They pay $50 to be part of the program, but we have scholarships for all the kids if they can’t afford it. We don’t let financial backgrounds stop kids from participating. Throughout the program, we fit helmets, bikes, jerseys, and shorts to the kids, and we teach them how to ride on various routes in the community.
The kids get this team feeling via the coaches, community and team sponsors, andan education & camaraderie for the first three months, then they ride with other cyclists on their final day of the program, either at the Santa Barbara 100 in October, or the RYBT Gibraltar Challenge in May. One of the best parts is that they see the whole community, on a large-scale, many for the first time. They also get the post event atmosphere, watch hundreds of bikes ride together… it really is a pretty hard core immersion into cycling culture, and a ton of fun.
The whole program and the final day is half about self-confidence and self-esteem building- they accomplish something they never thought they could do. The other half is about giving them the education and tools to be a responsible rider for their age. After the event they get five more Saturdays to ride and hear from guest speakers, everything from bike mechanics to Santa Barbara Police Department.
So they’re exposed to different elements of cycling in these Saturday sessions.
Yeah, for instance, at Hazard’s (a local bike shop), they build a bike out of the box with the staff, which come in early just for us. A separate time, the Santa Barbara Police Department bike cops came out and taught the kids what to do if their bike is stolen, and how to lock your bike with locks we bought for them…That was a really cool session, and a big success. I had no clue how that was going to work with the police department, but we gave the kids some real life advice and essential skills that resonated. And then, they went and rode for 2 hours.
Do you see kids come back to riding?
I get pictures from parents riding with their kids now. Even the parents are encouraged to show up on rides with the coaches. I’ll get pictures of parents with kids riding months afterwards and it’s awesome. We also use the parents to measure success of the program in real-time, and after. We also talk to the social workers of the kids (if they have one) to make sure there’s progress.
Are any of the kids taking cycling further?
Yeah, that was a big realization after our last program that we need to have the “next step” of a cycling program ready for the kids. That’s where our March program and Echelon Santa Barbara Cycling Club comes-in; I’ve been working with their board members for the past couple of months to create sort of this seamless route of cycling advancements, without pushing the kids too much into a straight racing culture. We do want them to know about the opportunities that are evolving, and they’re evolving fast, but the goal is to allow for resources conducive to a healthy bicycle culture.
And you’ve given up everything to do this, so to speak?
Hah, I don’t consider I’ve given up anything…it is true that the coaches and I are operating as volunteers until we satisfy the annual organizational needs, and we do put a lot of time and energy into the program. But the reward and the service, and the awesome Santa Barbara support carries us. It’s tricky, though, too- it takes a fair amount of money and time to give the kids the experience that they get. But when you’re with the kids it’s all worth it. At the SB 100, when the kids crossed the finish line, people were crying, and I had cyclists approach me saying it was the highlight of their day. That was amazing to me! “Highlight of their day”, it was a selfless appreciation of seeing kids accomplish their goals, on bikes, from someone who just rode all of Santa Barbara…unbelievable. These are kids who are 10 years old who just rode 34 miles, and we were all so proud…we’ve gained memories for ourselves that mean more than the personal financial gain.
The Ultimate Goal?
We want to create access to this cycling culture, build their self-esteem, their feelings of self-worth, and give them an education that will create a lifetime of cycling memories and empowerment. You know, something else in these kids’ lives is so controlling, we want to create access to a culture to go further. We want to help create stories for kids who are happier who lose weight, or have more friends, or have something that makes the outdoors more enjoyable, and gratifying.
But we also have small goals to impact the individual in whatever way we can. For instance, we had a kid from CALM in our last program, who was one of our most unique & challenging riders, as well as highly impatient. At my first meeting with CALM about this program, nine workers and child psychologists suggested that I take him into the program, and that he’d be a good, albeit challenging, fit to the program, and I said, “Game on”.
Week-to-week, there would be conflict, and throughout the program coaches and I would work with him to instill some trust, conversational values, and try to be a positive role model…He ended up being a great participant to the team, successfully rode the 34 mile route at the SB100, and we were all very proud of him.
I went back to CALM a couple months later to talk about our next program, and the Director had decided to call the rider to get a testimonial that she would read out-loud, at this meeting. And the short & sweet testimonial she read was,
“I had a lot of fun in the program and I learned how to raise my hand.”
That’s all he said! But all the counselors were like “WHAT?! He’s raising his hand?!” They were so shocked he was showing more signs of patience and social concerns, and it was awesome…I cracked up. And the staff was asking, “Zack, what did you do??” And I said, “Well, we gave him a bike and taught him how to ride”.
And that was as much a measure of success as it was of him completing the Santa Barbara 100 34 mile ride. We care about bikes and the ride, but we also care about what bikes and a community can do for emotional health & happiness. Hopefully the bikes can further assist to grades, behavior, and politeness for all of our riders down the road. But we work with kids who are going through so much…if raising your hand is a big step in the eyes of parents or child advocates, then I know we’re on the right track as a program for the Santa Barbara community.
Epilogue: That’s a lot of words but not nearly enough to describe what Zack is doing. These are issues of autonomy and social norms, of freedom and empowerment. To learn more or donate, head to www.RivieraYouthBikeTeam.com. Cycling can be more powerful than we imagine. If this isn’t a piece to fit under the Freedom Project…I don’t know what is. Communities are empowering.
John Polson founded Black Sheep Cycling with a friend out of his garage. Now, it's grown to be one of the premiere kit brands for racers and club riders alike. It's not easy to find cycling kit that's both performance oriented, fitted for the young racer or your average weekend rider, and stylistic enough for those with tastes we might categorize as a bit more "out there."
Stinner is always attracted to other brands trying to change the cycling environment, altering outdated cultural infrastructure without upsetting some of the more inelastic traditions. Black Sheep's design philosophy and culture of creating a product that's performance oriented yet aesthetically pleasing without being a sponsored up race kit is something to which Stinner was immediately attracted. The growing relationship between Stinner and Black Sheep has led to some enormous undertakings including the new Black Sheep | Stinner Elite Cycling Team in order to create a stronger hub of cycling and bike racing culture.
But how does one go about starting a kit company? There are lots of major kit companies out there, entering the market is certainly audacious.
With that, meet John Polson.
Stinner: First, what called you to bikes originally? What appeals to you about racing?
JP: I started racing bikes in my first year of my physiotherapy degree at university. From memory it was 2005. We were sitting in the pub one day, someone thought it would be a good laugh to ride a ridiculous distance, and the rest is history as they say. What I don’t freely admit is that I only raced bikes for a couple of years, before I was lured into triathlon. I ran track and cross-country in school, so it was only a natural progression. From 2008 to 2013 I competed professionally in both Olympic and Long Distance triathlons, in Australia and the US.
Anyone with an inclining for endurance sports are of similar mindset. We are attracted to the challenge, whether it is external achievements or internal improvements; we are somewhat self-absorbed; and most of us have an addictive personality. Now, deep into life with Black Sheep, I ride for the same reasons, just the proportions are a little different. I used to honestly believe that I was an all in, “only ride to race” type of person.
Nowadays, I still love to ride hard; you are hard pressed to get me to do anything hard and I am always the first one encouraging a stop at the coffee shop. It is a nice change.
Stinner: When did you start thinking about apparel and what was the sort of jumping off point to start Black Sheep?
JP: In my last couple of years as a professional triathlete, I started doing some part-time work in research and product development at a mass production sportswear manufacturer. I absolutely loved it. It was a job that required some knowledge of science, creativity, and experience as an athlete. There was never a day that I went into work that I dreaded or didn’t look forward to. Soon, I started to pull myself away from competition and expand my role within the business, eventually becoming their Designer.
What I learnt in my experiences pre-Black Sheep was that in clothing the person in charge, whether it’s the owner or the creative director, needs to be involved end-to-end in some form, especially in sportswear. It’s not like selling a t-shirt.
These products are backed by some serious science and innovation, all of which is useless without it being marketed and sold in an equally innovative way.
Whether it was ignorance, arrogance, or a combination of both, I felt an overwhelming sensation that I could do it a lot better.
Stinner: What did early Black Sheep look like and how has it evolved?
JP: Black Sheep started off in my garage, just myself and a friend, Shane Barrie. Right from the start we were driven by two key areas; quality and community. It took me six months to develop our initial kit, and it took Shane just as long to build a really solid social media platform to the point where we were relevant enough for people to be wanting our products from day one. Season One was released in November 2014 and sold out in a couple of days. Season Two was released in February 2015 and sold out in 24 hours. From that point on we knew we were onto something pretty special.
Today, Black Sheep is very different, internally and externally. We have had growing pains, like many brands that have come before. The stresses of rapid growth are huge and very unexpected but are ultimately a byproduct of our success. That is ultimately a huge positive.
Stinner: From a design perspective, where do you start, what general philosophy guides your aesthetic?
JP: It’s somewhat of a contradiction based on the designs I produce but I am actually a pretty simple guy.
My personality and my fashion sense are simple and understated. As a result, my design philosophy is actually governed by one simple mantra; restraint. The uniqueness of Black Sheep may be in the bold creations we produce. However, I genuinely believe what makes our designs so appealing are that we know when to stop.
It is easy to take artwork too far. One of my favorite artists, Anthony Lister, summarized it beautifully: “I can’t paint for anyone else. It’s all about having the courage to say this is finished. I have to be hard as fuck to fall in love with these things and let them go.”
Whether I am designing artwork that is representational, abstract, or non-objective, I have an overriding notion of restraint. In order to do this I do a few things. I employ a distinct colour palette, I obsess over the authentic and interesting elements, and I reduce any supporting elements. Everything else will then hopefully fall into place.
Stinner: What does innovation mean to you in regards to cycling clothing?
JP:Anyone that has had the privilege to delve deep into textiles, and in particular performance textiles, would appreciate what an exciting industry it is. We are in the middle of a development boom for polymers, fibers and yarns. Whether is in the areas of sustainability, moisture management, aerodynamics and sun protection, the gains that are being made are incredible. These developments are being driven by the active wear and running markets. As a sport, cycling needs to grow up and look to these markets for inspiration. Not necessarily to be inspired by the technology that has been produced, but to be inspired to start doing our own innovation. It is something that definitely excites me in the position I am in.
Stinner: Can you remember how the idea for an Elite Team was conceived?
JP: It was something that was talked about late last year. From our perspective, we are a company founded by two guys who once competed at an elite level, so it was always appealing to support like-minded individuals.
However, rather than start a “professional team”, what resonated with us were the amount of people that compete at exceptionally high levels whilst maintaining full-time work and families. It says everything great about our sport; the accessibility it has, the work ethic it requires, and the community it breeds.
What we wanted to do was to start a team based on these attributes and drive a level of awareness about what is possible outside of a simple results-based focus. The team will mainly compete in the Victorian Road Series, where elite races are held at the same time as amateur level races, instantly creating a connection with the community.
Our association with Stinner was natural. Firstly, we are great friends, we love hanging out, and we love doing cool shit together. Secondly, our respective successes over the last year or so have meant that we are now able to focus on giving back to communities that have supported us so well. A team gives us a platform to do this, whether it is as a tool to show that things can be done differently or a vehicle to promote significant change and improvement, or anything in between. Both of us, Stinner and Black Sheep, realize that the sport is so much bigger than any one person or any one brand. If we are able to give back in some way, to leave the sport in a better or a more diverse place than we did before our existence, then we have done our job.
Epilogue: Cycling is a sport that's been around a long time, and, as John stated above, we're not so naive to think that there is going to be a perfect product. But with brands like Black Sheep, we hope we can encourage dialogue between brands and cyclists, that can be truly deliberative. Perhaps through an open approach to design and style, we can get a little closer to that construct known as "perfection."
Photography: Gabe Fox
Here at Stinner, we know that the perception of steel bikes is of luxury and opulence, non-performance oriented and old-fashioned. But we're here to tell you that's just not the case. And to prove it, we've partnered with Black Sheep Cycling to put these bikes under racers on the Australian elite racing circuit. Yes, there will be an Australian elite team racing on our steel bikes, the men of steel, Black Sheep | Stinner Racing.
With the help of some of the top U.S. based companies in the cycling industry, these bikes received the exact same custom treatment as any other customer bike. Below, we discuss the technical specification, the builds, the state-of-the-art tubing, and the very special, highly intricate, paint process.
For the Black Sheep | Stinner Racing Team, the bikes had to meet the expectations of some of the most particular cyclists out there: elite level bike racers. We turned to True Temper’s S3 steel tubing to create a high quality, light, and responsive ride. Each bike went through the same considered build process, we wanted to make sure the riders had full trust in their equipment.
Fabrication: This is the first part of the build, and it starts with Stinner Fabricator Devin Jones. The bikes were built with True Temper’s high quality S3 Steel Tubing, meaning the bikes will be light and responsive. Using the information from rider fit data provided by Operations Lead Jeremy Platt, Devin cuts each tube to the specific lengths and miters them to fit and join at requested angles. Good miters ensure tube junctions are tight and precise. The angles and tubing specifications for each tube and junction have a massive influence on the ride quality. Any additional modifications to the tubing happens here as well. Each tube type, material, and thickness requires special treatment and an extreme level of precision.
Weld: Structure and strength come from the welds. Astute readers will see that welds rely on good miters. We use Tig welding because it is extremely strong as well as very clean looking. Stinner welder Carlos Velazquez comes from the aerospace industry, where his welds were holding airplanes together. Like Devin, Carlos is a true craftsmen. From fabrication, the bike starts looking like something of a bike. It goes into a jig that is set precisely to the desired angles. The mitered tubes are welded together (and adjusted as needed). Good fabrication, means better welds, and the weld process requires the utmost precision. Thus, the fabricator and welder really lean on each other to do their jobs. For those that have not seen tig welding before, it requires three limbs at any given time. It’s not easy. Each step in the process is QCed, and will not be deemed “done” until all aspects of the weld are guaranteed.
Paint: This is where a bit of creativity comes into play. Stinner painterJames Bellerue went to school for graphic design and has spent a lot of time in the bike industry, particularly at shops as a mechanic. James uses wet paint (as opposed to powder coating) and a three-stage paint process:
- Base Coat (colors, symbols, patterns)
- Clear Coat
The anthracite and pink Stinner|Black Sheep bikes’ topographic schemes were particularly intricate. We don’t use stickers, so everything must be masked by hand before another color can be laid down.
The bikes were painted entirely in anthracite, before being masked in order to apply the pink paint. The black topographic lines were one of the most intricate paint jobs we’ve done, and the masking for the artwork required a lot of care, skill, and patience. And some fortitude.The topography itself came from a vector pattern that was cut in masking vinyl to precisely match the digital artwork. Personalized paint jobs, designs, and symbols are never out of the question. As such, as a final touch, each bike has a logo that represents its riders (a hawk, a sloth, a peach, a kiwi, etc.)
Assembly: Operations Lead Jeremy Platt and Customer Experience Lead Mark Edwards will help with all componentry and bike specification questions. Both possess a deep knowledge of bike parts and compatibility issues from years of bike shop experience and hours of research. Once the bike is painted, it moves to assembly where Jeremy will complete the process.
The Stinner|Black Sheep bikes are equipped with SRAM’s wireless shifting group, SRAM Red eTap, as well as cockpits and rims from ENVE, and headsets, bottom brackets, and hubs from Chris King. Each brand is at the top of the bike industry, known for innovation, quality, and performance. The bike build can take a while—from considering ideal housing length and routing to working with tight clearances—but the bike won’t be shipped until everything is working perfectly and also looking good. The builds are test ridden and checked multiple times.
We'll be keeping you up to date on the team's progress throughout the year. Let us know if you have any questions about the bikes by contacting Mark: email@example.com