You tell me what “strong” looks like

There are stereotypical physical builds that reflect a person’s suitability to many sports. Rock climbers and long-distance runners, for example, tend to be wiry and thin, as their sports call for minimum body weight and joint loading. Female gymnasts and figure skaters tend to be short of stature, as this helps them perform axial spinning maneuvers easier and faster. Long limbs and great height are assets in basketball, volleyball, swimming, and racket sports.

All of this got me thinking. What does a strong cyclist look like?

As one early episode of the road cycling anime “Yowamushi Pedal” mentions, cycling is one of the only sports where competitors are freed from supporting their own body weight. The bike frees cyclists to put all of their muscle and sinew into forward propulsion. So you’ll find that great cyclists come in many shapes and sizes.

Let’s look at the professional road cycling peloton first. As glamorous as multi-day Grand Tour races like the Tour de France, the Giro d’Italia, and the Vuelta a España are, they are actually multiple competitions happening all at once.

Jerseys of the Tour de France. I skipped the white jersey in this post, as it is for riders under 25. Photo credit: probikekit.co.uk

The main one is the “general classification” or “GC,” where the rider with the cumulative fastest time through all of the stages of a given Grand Tour (e.g. 21 for the Tour de France) is declared the ultimate winner. For this prize, each second counts, because it all adds up. As the event progresses, GC leaders are given the yellow jersey (“maillot jaune”) in the Tour de France, a red jersey for the Vuelta a España, and a pink jersey (“maglia rosa”) for the Giro d’Italia.

Traditionally the domain of spindly climbers – cyclists who tend to look like they can be blown away by the wind, but can ascend like nobody’s business – is the “King of the Mountains” (“KOM”) competition. The mountain passes in each stage are given ranks or categories, based on how steep and how long they are, and they are accordingly assigned a points value. Riders who can finish climbing these mountains first are awarded maximum points, and the one with the most of these KOM points at the end of the Grand Tour is the KOM winner. For the Tour de France, the white jersey with red polka dots, or simply “the polka dot jersey,” is worn by the current leader of this competition. There is a similar competition in other multi-day cycling races.

Finally we have the general points classification competition of the Tour de France, which is the domain of muscular sprinters and puncheurs, and symbolized by the green jersey (“maillot vert”). Similar to how mountain climbs have points to be awarded, there are intermediate sprint competitions that happen within a particular stage, and there are points waiting at the end of each stage as well. The first rider to cross the “finish” of an intermediate sprint or the stage finish is awarded maximum points. At the end of the Grand Tour, the rider with the most number of these points is the green jersey winner. Again, there is a similar competition in other multi-day cycling races.

Climber Chris Froome shaking hands with sprinter/puncheur Peter Sagan at the start of Stage 20 of the 2015 Tour de France. Froome is in yellow; Sagan is in green. Note how different their physiques are. Photo credit: Zimbio/Getty Images

So, obviously, the three Grand Tours in professional road cycling account for different types of riders and their respective strengths. Nobody expects a heavy, muscular sprinter like Peter Sagan or Andre Greipel to win on long mountain climbs against the likes of Chris Froome or Nairo Quintana, who are both very lean and prioritize power-to-weight ratio. Conversely, Quintana and Froome are outside bets on an intermediate sprint or a sprint finish.

That’s great, but what about outside professional cycling? It is here that arguably there are even more surprises to see.

The large man with the Corima deep-section wheels is David Charlton, CEO of the David’s Salon chain – and a known triathlete. His appearance belies his riding ability and speed. Photo credit: KulitRunner.

I’ve seen some of the most rotund people outride what most people consider the “favorites” from their external appearance, and many triathlete friends swear by this as well. I’ve seen fixed-gear riders outperform and outride Lycra-clad road cyclists in a 200 km brevet. I’ve seen what appear to be old, rickety guys with simple steel bikes hoof their way up Tagaytay faster than riders in their prime with all the bells and whistles to help them.

Clearly, you can never really tell how much ability a rider has just by looking at them. So the next time you are tempted to body-shame a fellow cyclist, keep this in mind. The only way to know for sure how strong a rider is, is by riding with them.

Now get out there, ride your bike, and you tell me what a “strong” cyclist looks like.

Velos at Vertex: Big bike brand presence in Singapore

After my inaugural visit to Decathlon’s super-sized store in Bedok, I hoof over to Eunos and Kampong Ubi to once again gatecrash one of my favorite areas. Hidden in the Ubi Vertex area, among an Autobacs car service station and several furniture shops, are a smattering of bike shops occupying the same huge building.

JH HOBBY CYCLE

JH Cycle is the comparative minnow in today’s tour, catering to a lower price bracket.

While they carry saddles, apparel and tools, I’m most impressed by their folding bike parts and accessories. Check out those wheelsets. The Decaf wheelset shown here, in particular, apparently sports deep-section carbon fiber rims.

There’s quite a selection of folding bikes, too. Most of them are built around the 20″ wheel size and made by a Chinese concern called Langtu.

SCOTT BICYCLES

Kian Hong Cycle Pte Ltd operates the Scott Bicycles big-box store.

The sheer amount of choice inside is rather mind-boggling. In addition to Scott, it stocks rides from French maker Look and the rising Indonesian player Polygon, both in mountain and road forms. Check out that full-suspension Polygon MTB in the foreground.

Scott’s road bike lineup is shown here. I noticed the absence of their cyclocross steeds, the Speedster CX and Addict CX, though.

Scott also makes helmets, and their current top-dog Cadence road helmet is shown here in black and green beside the mirror made from a Lightweight rim.

It’s amazing how many more brands Kian Hong carries. Sharp eyes will no doubt have already spotted Mavic’s screaming yellow helmets hung on this wall, too. Apparently they carry Effetto Mariposa tire and tubeless sealant products as well.

And what is Mavic without its wheelsets? Among this sea of MTBs is a display stand for them.

To cap things off, Kian Hong Cycle is your go-to place for Campagnolo components, Castelli road cycling apparel, Selle San Marco saddles, servicing Fox suspension parts…basically the only thing that seems alien to them is cyclocross.

The three remaining shops are literally smooshed right next to each other.

SPECIALIZED BICYCLES

Specialized has a Concept Store here operated by Tay Junction. Like other places of its kind, it’s basically a showroom for all of the brand’s high-zoot, high-priced bikes – especially in top-whack S-Works form.

In the foreground here with the orange trim is the brand-new 2017 S-Works Roubaix disc-braked endurance bike, now sporting the “FutureShock” suspension cartridge. I’m told that for Singapore customers, they’re all sold with the firmest spring option as the asphalt is pretty smooth.

While I’d agree, I’d also question the necessity of riding a Roubaix around Singapore in the first place. The bike was made to compete in the cobblestone-riddled roads of the Paris-Roubaix one-day race, for crying out loud – the suspension would be a waste here and would just add complication.

At the other end of the pallet sits the disc brake version of the Venge ViAS, the brand’s flagship aero road bike. When it first came out with its proprietary hideaway rim brakes, many complained that the brakes simply didn’t work well or feel great. The disc brakes should solve this problem.

What hasn’t changed is the price, though. At S$6000 (~PhP206,000), the Venge ViAS is still pretty expensive.

Climb a flight of stairs and you veer away from the S-Works stuff into cyclocross and fitness bikes. Shown here is the Crux, their cross bike, sporting a 1×11 SRAM Rival 1 drivetrain with hydraulic disc brakes.

GIANT BICYCLES/LIV

Tay Junction also takes care of the Taiwanese behemoth’s bikes in Singapore, under the name Cappa Trading Pte Ltd, as well as the Liv women’s-specific range. At the very back of this picture is a brand-new 2016 TCX SLR 2, which is a bit more expensive than in Manila at S$2000 (~PhP68,700).

Dangling from the roof is the Propel aero bike in top-spec SL Team form, at S$6200 (PhP213,000). The Venge ViAS Disc suddenly sounds like a better proposition.

We’ve got the Defy endurance bikes and the MTBs here too. I believe the Glory is Giant’s downhill mountain bike, built to take a massive beating bombing down trails at high speed. Cappa stocks Hollywood racks and adapters.

Finally we’ve got the Anyroad lineup, including the top-whack Comax model made out of carbon composite, sitting below the Trinity time-trial/triathlon bike. I’ve yet to see an Anyroad Comax in the Philippines; the S$2400 (PhP82,500) price tag should be indicative of what you’d expect to pay if it made its way to our shores.

In addition to the bikes, the store also stocks Shimano’s and Giant’s own cycling shoes.

CANNONDALE

My last stop on this tour is Cannondale’s big box store, managed by Cannasia.

They also sell other components under the Cannondale umbrella, such as Fabric saddles and multi-tools.

I have a soft spot for these guys because they have a good selection of Shimano parts…at a decent price. This was where I bought my SM-BB91-41B bottom bracket, a Dura-Ace-level part, for S$45 (PhP1550). Everywhere else I visited sold it for twice that.

Cannasia also sells entire Shimano road and mountain groupsets.

Decathlon: Here comes a new challenger

Previously I shared part of my year-end Singapore jaunt as I checked out Ikea’s Sladda commuter bike. Today we’re moving from Queenstown to Bedok as I take the bus across the island to visit the local branch of the French sporting goods mega-store, Decathlon.

Getting off at a bus stop in Bedok along Upper Changi Road, you can simply turn around to see the store’s large building complex. What’s interesting about Decathlon is that all of its wares are made up of its own house brands. You know how household goods branded “Bonus” are sold cheaply at SM grocery stores? That’s because Bonus is SM’s house brand. It’s a similar deal here.

Decathlon’s approach dedicates each house brand to a specific sport or product line. Their Quechua brand, for example, is for hiking and backpacks, while their Orao label adorns most of their eyewear.

The house brand we’re interested in is B’Twin.

I don’t know how many of you read any foreign cycling websites, particularly those in Europe and the UK, but B’Twin’s stuff is almost ridiculously well reviewed in the past couple of years. Their Triban road bikes are frequently recommended for newcomers to road cycling because of a good build kit of components and great workmanship on frames…while simultaneously coming in below the magic and highly competitive £1000 (~PhP61,000) mark of the UK’s “Cycle To Work” (C2W) bicycle subsidy scheme.

From what I understand of C2W, you can either blow the whole £1000 subsidy on a bike, or spend slightly less on the bike (for example, £800 or PhP49,000), and use the remainder on cycling-related apparel and accessories such as a helmet, repair spares, and lights – all of which B’Twin also offers.

B’Twin offers mountain bikes, but I’ll be taking a long hard look at their road bike line. This is one such model, the Triban 520 – perhaps the bike responsible for so much of the brand’s positive press. Its foundation is of 6061 aluminum and a carbon-bladed fork with an aluminum alloy steerer, but interestingly has clearance for 32 mm tires and mounting hardpoints for full-length fenders and a rear rack.

The 520 build kit then bolts on Shimano’s 9-speed Sora 3500 groupset parts and a triple crank, with the exception of B’Twin’s own-brand brake calipers. Word on the street is that the calipers are the weak link in the package, but realistically speaking, they’re a cheap upgrade.

So how much does this sell for? S$700 – PhP24,000 in old money. If you’re fine with rim brakes, that’s a great value. Most other bikes in this price range are equipped with Shimano’s Claris 2400 8-speed drivetrain. The real draw for me however is just how adaptable the frame is…and there are even cheaper models in the Triban lineup.

If you’re not a brand snob and are willing to save even more, you could go for a Triban 500. You get the same frame, but the build kit now consists of Taiwanese firm MicroShift’s 3×8 R8 drivetrain. These guys have been knocking out drivetrain components for a very long time, many of them Shimano-compatible, yet do not enjoy a large brand presence and reportedly work quite well regardless.

Because not much is known about MicroShift, it’s worth taking a closer look – at least at their control levers.

From the outset, MicroShift’s R8 contol levers look similar to Shimano’s STI levers. The main difference is that they adopt Campagnolo’s philosophy of “one lever, one function” in their own way.

Unlike STI levers, here the brake lever doesn’t act as a shift lever – all it does is pull brake cable when squeezed. Behind the brake lever are two shift levers stacked one on top of the other. The lower lever downshifts to an easier or larger cog; the upper lever upshifts to a smaller, harder cog. MicroShift’s control scheme will probably take a bit of getting used to, especially for upshifting.

Just as impressive is how many frame sizes the Triban caters to. The bike on the right is a size XXS; the one overlapping it is a size L. Apparently the smaller sizes come with smaller 650C wheels. There are even flat-handlebar versions.

Over to the apparel section…

B’Twin divides its road cycling apparel into three lines. The 300 series is for occasional riders who ride for up to an hour at a time, maximum. Regular riders will appreciate 500 series stuff, built to provide comfort for three or four hours. Seasoned cyclists are catered to by 700 series garments.

Their 500-series waist shorts are a pretty good value at S$28 (~PhP960). This isn’t the best bit, however.

Just a couple Singapore dollars more gets you the equivalent bib shorts. I was always put off by bib shorts because of their prohibitive pricing, but at S$30 (PhP1030), these are a fraction of the price of name-brand stuff. Difficulty of nature breaks aside, at this level of difference over their waist-banded brothers, you might as well buy these as your first proper pair of bibs.

How good are they? Is this a case of “you get what you pay for”? That remains to be seen.

B’Twin even offers their own helmets. This is the midrange 500 series model, sold with a removable visor to cater both for mountain bikers and road cyclists. That orange is rather fetching.

Two snaps secure each end of the visor onto the helmet shell. Not as discreet as they could be, but at least they make for a solid foundation for the visor.

Decathlon advertises them as having a total of 21 vents, with about seven of them at the back to extract hot air from your head. A ratcheted knob engages the retention mechanism for better head fit, and it has reflective stickers on it too.

I wasn’t able to take photos of the inside of the helmet, but there’s not much air channeling molded into the foam, and there’s no MIPS liner either. Still, 286 grams in a Medium size is respectable, and it’s a good deal at S$56 (PhP1900).

I skipped on their jerseys, as they had no full-zipper varieties, but I took a good look at their gloves. These fluoro yellow jobs are from the 520 line and cost S$22 (PhP760), which is par for the course with branded stuff. When I tried them out, I found the padding is quite generous but cut in a pattern accounting for palm flexion well. The back side is very stretchy, and the wide Velcro closure strap holds on rather well. The 700-series gloves eschew any Velcro and are held on purely by the material’s elasticity, but are quite a bit more expensive.

Finally we look at something for our baggy-shorted cousins: B’Twin’s baggies.

Only the 300-series MTB shorts were in stock, in blue and black. The waistband has a couple buttons on the inner edge that look like they should mate with B’Twin’s own liner shorts. The material feels hard-wearing, and it’s sized rather generously – a size XL is loose around my waist. There are belt loops, two side pockets and an external cargo pocket on the right leg.

And just check out that price – at S$20 (PhP680) it’s a steal.

The best part about this story is that as of this writing, I’ve seen a Decathlon branch being constructed inside Festival Mall in Alabang while dining out. How well the French super-store’s value proposition translates into the Philippine setting is something we will only have to wait and see.