The High Cost of Fashion

If you’re going to dress to be chic, it will cost you. You already knew that, right? Let’s see—Rapha, Assos, Castelli….or Bike Nashbar, Performance, Decathlon? We all want to be PRO and not Fred, so our closets are filled with physical incantations that will transform us into Those To Whom We Aspire. You should not be surprised that this also applies to your bike. Hence the current obsession with hydraulic disc brakes. Setting up and maintaining hydraulic brakes perhaps becomes second nature after practice. But the learning curve is a lot steeper than with old-fashioned rim brakes. Cutting lines and setting the olive and barb, bleeding lines and making sure they’re free of air, to name just a couple of tasks, are probably unfamiliar to most road cyclists while very familiar to mountain bikers at least those who do their own maintenance and repairs.

Nowadays road bikes are getting more complex and the tradition of DIY maintenance and repair is slowly eroding away. Having your LBS handle routine brake maintenance is going to cost you not just because it’s more time consuming but also because you’ll probably need to have it done more often than you would with rim brakes.

The other dirty little secret of hydraulic brakes is that the replacement parts are much more expensive than for rim brakes. I alluded to this in an earlier post but I was incorrect about the cost. I said that rim brake pads and disc brake pads cost about the same and that is not accurate. Top end Shimano Dura Ace brake pads cost a mere $9 a set—$20 for two sets and you have brand new brakes. Contrast that with hydraulic brakes: Shimano replacement pads run about $25-30 for one set. You will also have to regularly change the rotor, which wears out quickly. Shimano rotors run about $60-75 for one rotor. I run through about three sets of pads before I’ve worn down the rotor to the point it needs to be changed and I run through about one rotor per year. So in a year I’ll be spending about $130 on replacement parts for disc brakes. Another way to put it is the per wheel cost: the average maintenance cost per wheel is about $50 for hydraulic brakes but for rim brakes it’s just $9. For me rim brake pad wear is measured in years but rotors and hydraulic disc brake pads it’s months. Of course the unmentioned cost with rim brakes is that you eventually will wear out your rim. But in my case that’s somewhere north of 25,000 miles so the cost per year is really quite small. Of course the cost is less important if your use case warrants it. When I’m going down fire roads those hydraulic brakes are a blessing!

The Best Way to Keep One’s Word is Not to Give It

The San Jose Mercury News reported that October 21 was the deadline for remediation of the infrastructure for BART’s as-yet unopened Milpitas and Berryessa stations in order to open by the end of this year. If you recall last June the opening date for the new stations was delayed yet again until “November” or “late 2019”. Everything was set back when “thousands” of problems were still unresolved between the VTA-constructed stations and BART. Apparently those problems are now down to a “handful” and BART blew its deadline yet finally began testing the new line a week late on October 28. Nothing ever seems to go smoothly with BART especially its dismal PR. Since BART never appears to rush headlong (yeah, we wish!), the odds of it being able to open Milpitas and Berryessa by Dec. 31 are about zero. One would think that being one week behind schedule means it will open a week late. Well, originally it was “November” or “late fall”. I think we might see it before June 2020 keeping in mind BART never admits its timelines are always ludicrously unrealistic.

On the other hand we just had dinner with a German friend who commented that the new Berlin Tegel airport was originally set to open in 2011. But due to the 2008 recession subcontractors went bankrupt disappeared and along with them the schematics of their work. So now the airport is “done” except that nothing works and they’re untangling that mess slowly. New opening date is now late 2020. Does that sound familiar to you? In another example of stellar German planning the Hamburg opera house, the Elbphilharmonie, finally opened in 2017 but ran into cost overruns that put construction on hiatus twice, I believe. It eventually opened six years late. So maybe BART is actually ahead of the curve. Whoa, what a thought!

Calling All Spokers-Jock Sunday at the Lookout on Sunday Nov. 3!

Workin’ it, baby!

We hope you’re all planning to come to the Lookout (3600 16th St. @ Market, across from Cafe Flore) on Sunday, November 3 for our important fundraiser. The fun begins at 3:30 pm when your fellow Spokers will be the hostesses with the mostestes, selling raffle tickets and jello shots to raise cash for our club. Funds raised will go towards our 2020 budget.

What can be more fun than jokes and drinks on a balcony on a sunny (or even cloudy) afternoon overlooking the passing Castro parade? These Sunday afternoons/early evenings guarantee a hot, friendly, and frisky crowd of athletic supporters in an afternoon schmooze and booze with door and donations benefitting LGBT sports teams. We call on all DSSF members—both boys and girls, as it’s all gender friendly—to come out in their kit and gear to support and promote our club. In previous years we’ve raised a princessly sums of money ($400-1,000!) for club activities.

The WalMart of Bicycling Comes to the Bay Area [updated 10/30]

$50 bike shorts.

You’ve probably never heard of Decathlon stores but there are now two of them in the Bay Area, in Emeryville and soon to be in San Francisco on Potrero Hill. Decathlon is a cross between WalMart, Performance Bike, and Sports Authority: it sells sporting goods including lots of cycling stuff for distubingly low prices. The catch is you’re not going to find any familiar brands in its stores. You look around and there isn’t anything from Castelli, Pearl Izumi, Sugoi, or any other brand you’re familiar with. They carry bikes from B’Twin, Van Ryssel, and Triban. Never heard of those brands? The reason is that they are only found in Decathlon stores as they’re all made-up brand names coming directly from Decathlon. Decathlon is a practioner of vertical integration. It tries very hard not to be a reseller of other manufacturers’ goods. Whatever it can make (or arrange to have made) Decathlon will sell. That allows it to avoid markups for other companies’s marketing and cuts out the intermediate cost so Decathlon can offer goods at low cost. So you see cycling shorts for $50, inner tubes for $4, and bicycles of every level at anywhere from hundreds to thousands of dollars less than you’d pay for a Trek, Specialized, or Colnago. The trick is you have to be satisfied with non-name brand stuff made in god-knows-where. The good news is that some of their cycling stuff is either decent or pretty good.

We walked into the Emeryville store and were simultaneously blown away and skeptical: how can you have decent cycling shorts for $40 or $50? Then you run across product reviews on the blogosphere like this or this or a review from a mainstream cycling sites like this or this and you realize that although their stuff may not be quite as good as, say, Pearl Izumi, it’s still good enough and it’s a whole lot cheaper.

My closet is filled with Rapha, Assos, and Castelli garb. But you know what? It may look nice but I’ve had quality issues with every brand including the “best”. Wearing $250 cycling shorts and $200 jerseys that PRO racers supposedly also use is a signifier more than it is a realistic and practical reflection of need. But we all know what our needs are abundantly manufactured, don’t we? It’s a lot like having that Porsche 911 in your driveway when all you do is run errands or commute on clogged Bay Area roads. Yeah, you look hot in that German Autobahn machine but a Prius would serve the same function. So it is with a lot of cycling stuff.

Commuting done on the cheap

Back to Decathlon: their bicycle prices are also eye-opening. We saw a starter bike for $199. That’s cheaper than Costco and probably Sears too. They also had full-on carbon road bike with a full Dura Ace group and Mavic carbon wheels for around $4,500. That’s the kind of bike that Trek or Specialized sell for at least $7,000 these days. Canyon Bicycles out of Germany is also selling the latest-and-greatest carbon wonder machines for thousands less than you’d pay for the Big S or Waterloo. But its road to lower prices is selling directly to cyclists through the Internet. The advantage that Decathlon has is it’s a brick-and-mortar store: if you have a problem with your bike/apparel/accessory you can take it back and get it fixed or replaced immediately rather than having to ship it back to Canyon’s North American distribution center, wherever that is. And those Decathlon bikes fare well against Canyon’s.

Carbon? Check. Full Dura Ace? Check. Mavic carbon wheels? Check. $4500??

Decathlon is like WalMart, Costco, or Ikea in another way: your local bike store is going to take a hit now that France’s megaretailer has arrived in town. Fortunately for LBS’s Decathlon doesn’t do small stores so you’re never going to see lots of them in the nearby communities. In a way Decathlon is doing what Performance Bike did only half-assed, which was to sell some of its own branded stuff on the cheap; in Decathlon’s case it sells ONLY its own stuff. If I were REI or maybe Sports Basement I’d be worried. Although Decathlon is more of a “traditional” sporting goods store and REI is outdoors oriented, there is enough overlap (cycling, running, hiking, camping) that Decathlon is going to undercut REI with its super-low prices. Also, Decathlon unlike REI or most local bike shops I’ve seen doesn’t trade in the same up-market mystique. You walk in and it looks more like a Sears for sporting goods (eg. Sports Authority) than a Rapha store. No snob appeal here and that’s partly because its stuff isn’t on point for fashion or trend. That isn’t to say their clothing is unfashionable—it’s just done simply. For your average consumer that’s a very good thing even if Rapha freds couldn’t stand the stench of off-brand knock-offs.

There’s no doubt that the Decathlon in Emeryville is going to be a player. But for the moment its zeitgeist is nakedly value-for-dollar. So much of cycling—well, recreational cycling I mean—is about Walter Mitty, faux racer fantasies and projecting the PRO image and Decathlon just isn’t aiming for deluded aspirational cyclists. Yet. (There was a time when Decathlon did in fact sponsor a pro team. Maybe that will happen again.)

One thing that Decathlon doesn’t have going for it is customer service. We walked in and there were staff around. But it was more like Home Depot: you are going to have to hunt for a staff person if you need assistance. We walked in, perused the goods in the cycling area, which wasn’t small, and didn’t see a single staff person around nor did we see a repair shop; perhaps it was in the back (they have to assemble those bikes somewhere!). Well, you have to cut your labor costs if you want to offer low prices and make your owner wealthy. (Decathlon is privately held).

For more information about Decathlon:

UPDATE (10/30/19): Apparently merino wool is so en vogue in athletic or ‘active’ wear that even Decathlon now sells a merino wool long sleeve jersey in the UK for about £50 (=$64). I don’t see it on the US site but you can view it on the UK site here.

$64 Rapha killer

It’s a nice looking jersey that would probably be very comfortable for Bay Area winter riding. It also got a very good review at here. For comparison look at similar wares from trendy apparelists Rapha and Cafe du Cycliste. Rapha is the company that started the merino cycling apparel craze about ten years ago. Their current merino jersey, the Classic II, is $175. Cafe du Cycliste, a Rapha wannabe company in France, offers its Claudette merino jersey for $210 (!) I don’t foresee Decathlon cratering either Rapha’s or Cafe du Cycliste’s sales anytime soon. But the fact that Decathlon can come out with a comparable handsome jersey for a third the cost will raise some eyebrows (and open some wallets, maybe a lot of wallets). If you’re hanging in there for a Rapha sale—something that has been perhaps too regular—you may be out of luck as this article points out. Rapha’s has been posting a loss despite being a luxury brand, showing that even the velominati have their limits when it comes to being asked to hand over $270 for a pair of cycling shorts. With Rapha retrenching as the Louis Vuitton of cycling wear you can be sure that those of us who are déclassé will find it literally too rich for our taste and will be eyeing Decathlon’s goods with relief.

A Bridge Not Too Far

Tiburon Loop here I come!

Oh joy. I was thinking this was just not going to happen: a bicycle lane on the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge. But construction actually started a few days on the aforesaid pedestrian-bicycle lane. There had been vociferous pushback from Motordom to quash that project when it was announced and instead wanted to turn the maintenance lane into a full-fledged automobile lane. Car drivers deemed it frivolous to give that lane to mere cyclists when they that have better and more important things to do and could make good use of all that wasted roadway. Things had been quiet for months and I was half-expecting an announcement that the bike lane was to be eliminated. Maybe we cyclists are more potent than we realize. However note that studies will be done on the impact of going ahead with a third car lane, so the possibility of eliminating bike-ped access is still alive.

This project has been a fantasy of mine ever since the prospect of a bike lane appeared: the ability to ride a bike from Orinda all the way to Marin where I can do even more riding or hop on the SMART train and head to northern Marin or Sonoma county to ride on roads I rarely get to do anymore.

The article in the East Bay Times mentions mid-November being the earliest opening date! Say what? It is incredible that they can get this up and running in so short a time. It’s four miles long and it will likely be windy much of the time but I’ll take it! This also brings up an interesting take on Bay In A Day: we won’t have to hazard riding on Highway 37 to circumnavigate the Bay Area. Yes, I know some of you will think this is cheating but cycling on Highway 37 scares the dickens out of me at least at certain times of the day.

Once it opens stay tuned for a club ride to Tiburon Loop the Really Long Way, or how about a Jersey Ride that starts in Oakland instead of Peet’s in the Castro?

Ragging on BART, Part Deux, or Quelle Surprise! BART’s Pushing Back Opening Dates!

A Rock and A Hard Place: BART or this?

Ah, it’s time again to play “Guess The Opening Date”—money wagers only, please. Although the details weren’t revealed (if they even existed), we all knew that when BART announced last June that the Milpitas and Berryessa stations would open before the end of 2019 that it was another conjuring act for the easily duped. Yesterday BART as much as admitted that. With the “discovery” of over “1,000 problems” in the new stations and track, there likely isn’t enough time to resolve them and get testing done to open those stations this year. But thank goodness BART has assigned “its very best engineers” to do testing! Whatever. I’m sure they’re on it.

There hasn’t been a construction deadline that BART hasn’t blown by years, so whatevs. And to think the original opening date was projected to be 2016. Well, that’s just three- no, four years late. But arriving late is so fashionable, n’est-ce pas? We are going to be damn lucky if Berryessa station is open in time for next year’s Mt. Hamilton ride in November.

And with its track record [pun intended] BART has the gall to come to the table to ask for another fat tax measure to line its dysfunctional coffers. Aren’t you getting the feeling that BART is an endless black hole of tax money? We just passed Measure RR and now BART is already planning its next mugging. It’s like building more freeways: you never catch up because expansion just induces more demand, which leads to BART needing still more money. People have already realized that in the Bay Area we can’t continue building more freeways. When are we going to come to the same realization with BART?

You may use BART to get to work. But how many Spokers actually use BART to get to rides? On the rides that Roger and I lead, which we try to start at BART stations to encourage use of public transportation, I’d say only about a quarter of riders do; most people drive to the start. But parking at BART stations on weekends is awesome!

The Club Picnic

Now that’s a potluck picnic (1983)!

The club picnic, which is nigh upon us, is one of the oldest extant club events with the first one taking place in October 1983. Considering that the club formally “opened business” in November 1982, the picnic appeared just before our first birthday. It was held in Lindley Meadow in Golden Gate Park, which is just east of this year’s picnic site at West Pioneer Meadow. At that point the club’s membership was probably about a hundred yet the turnout was huge—60 people! Perhaps it was due to the shrewd marketing, which in those days consisted of posting flyers in local businesses and bike shops. There was no email or Internet then. It’s possible that we posted an announcement in the local gay rags but it must have been a freebie. Or, you could look at the large turnout as a sign of the prolific thirst for a club like Different Spokes.
One of the organizers of that first picnic was Shay Huston, one of the first women members of the club. Shay wasn’t one of the founders but she almost certainly was a member before we formally announced our existence in the ChainLetter. Shay was, like many of the key early members, an avid bike tourist. Shay participated in the club’s very first official ride, the overnight tour to Santa Cruz and back over Thanksgiving 1982. The others who planned the picnic were Tom Chalmers and Ed Fitzgerald. I don’t recall Tom but I have a vague recollection of Ed. It was in many ways a ‘trite’ event: it had all the standard picnic things such as grilled burgers and dogs, picnic tables, volleyball, and a treasure hunt. Feeding that many people was a task but people brought a lot of food to share. The club was pretty broke in those days so we asked for donations of food!
The following October the picnic was held in Elk Glen picnic area, which is just south of Lindley on the South Drive side of the park. Then followed a break from 85-87 where we had no picnic for some reason, probably because no one stepped up to organize it. By then several key members were either gone or dead even though the club was continually growing due to Bike-A-Thon.
The picnic returned in 1988 and 1989 also at Elk Glen. I recall these more clearly because I helped organize them. In September 1989 Bob Humason had just died and secretly left a bequest of $700 to the club. Bob was an early member and later became President and was instrumental in the very first AIDS Bike-A-Thon in 1985. By early 1989 he was fading fast due to AIDS and was gone in what seemed like a flash. Anyway, part of that $700 was put to good use in buying plenty of food for the picnic only to turn out to be an extravagant waste when hardly anyone showed up!

Bob Krumm hovering over the grill in Lindley Meadow.

With this year’s picnic taking place in late September it’s returning to its roots. Originally the picnic was conceived as a farewell-to-summer-and-riding, which is why it took place in October. Not coincidentally that’s a good time to hold a picnic in Golden Gate Park since late summer/early fall usually has less fog and we get an Indian [sic] summer. That said I recall the picnic in either 1984 or 1988, although not frigid, was a tad windy and the fog rolled in later in the day. That’s probably what encouraged the club to look for a venue with more reliable weather and that would allow it to be held during mid-summer rather than just in the short window of balmy weather we get in SF. I don’t recall whose idea it was to move it to Samuel P. Taylor State Park but I do recall at least one picnic there that was absolutely broiling. I remember panting in the heat despite sitting beneath towering redwoods. Perhaps it was like being stuck between the proverbial devil and the deep blue sea. I’m speculating but in later days I suspect that’s why it was moved again, this time to China Camp, which being on the Bay is sunnier than GGP and although it could be warm there the bay waters provide such an ameliorating influence.
Moving the picnic out of SF may have been a blessing weather-wise but the logistics became more complicated. Now folks had to get to the picnic site by car unless they wanted to do a significant bike ride. That didn’t seem to hurt attendance much as pictures in the club photo gallery show that for many years Sam P. Taylor and China Camp had good turnouts. Moving the picnic back to SF makes it easier for most folks to get to the picnic (although it’s debatable for those of us who live outside of SF that getting to SF can still be called ‘easy’!)
See you Sunday September 22!