As cyclists, I think we can all agree that it can sometimes be quite enjoyable to occasionally take a ride that's longer than the ones we usually take. Whether or not you choose to call this ride an "epic" is up to you, but underneath all the evocative language and imagery the fundamental truth is we like to spend time on our bikes. Furthermore, whether you find Rapha's presentation of the "epic" ride seductive or pretentious, I think we can also agree that when it comes to taking long rides the Rapha Continental do it right. No, I don't mean that you need a Richard Sachs frame and a pair of $200 bibs to take a long ride, nor do I mean it needs to be documented in black and white photography and recounted in overwrought prose later. I simply mean that if you're going to spend five or six hours riding on the road and you don't need to carry any clothing or supplies with you, a road bike, a pair of cycling shorts, and a jersey is a pretty good choice.
However, some riders have a different way of approaching the "epic." For them, an "epic" ride isn't pushing themselves and their equipment as far and as hard as possible. Instead, it involves simply using the wrong equipment altogether. One group of riders selling this version of the "epic" is Nabiis, who have undertaken what they call the "Tour de Taiwan," and they're doing it on fixed-gears:
Now you might think that track bicycles equipped with riser bars of the sort normally used by urban cyclists to cover short distances and perform unimpressive tricks would be a bad choice for a longish road ride, and from the looks of their times it seems you'd be right. Here's how they fared on day one:
Please note I've converted the data from pretentious to cumbersome for the convenience of my fellow Americans. As you can see, the Nabiis crew managed to cover a distance of 51 miles in roughly three and a half hours, making their average speed about 15mph. To put this in context, on May 24th Rapha had one of their "Gentlemen's Races" in upstate New York, in which various six-person teams from the region covered a distance of roughly 120 miles. The winning team, Empire, finished in five hours and 28 minutes. The last place team, HUP United, finished in eight hours and 15 minutes complete with a rider who had never ridden over 100 miles before.
So what does this mean? Well, given the fact that HUP averaged about the same speed as the Nabiis riders over some significant climbs for well over twice the distance, it means that Nabiis might want to consider rethinking their choice of bicycle. Sure, I realize Nabiis aren't necessarily racing or even trying to finish quickly, but if that's the case why are they posting finishing times and riding with a follow car? Even the Rapha riders don't have support. The only conclusion I can draw is that they're trying to prove that hipster bikes make pretty bad road bikes, and in that respect they've succeeded admirably. Either that, or they don't want to tire themselves out for the post-stage stunting sessions:
In that respect though, I suppose doing a half-assed road ride and then doing some half-assed tricks all in the same day and on a bicycle ill-suited to both could be considered "epic."
Speaking of riser bars, the latest reason I've been hearing often for using them on fixed-gears (besides freestyling) is that they let you see over traffic. This is ridiculous. Firstly, people drive enormous cars these days, and unless you live in a town where everybody drives a DeLorean there's no way you're seeing over traffic unless you're riding a tall bike--and that's to say nothing of all the vans, trucks, and buses. If a high vantage point made a better city bike then we'd all still be riding p-fars. Secondly, even if you could see over traffic, why would you want to? When you ride in the city the most important thing by what's happening a few feet in front of you, particularly with regard to the road surface. It's no good craning your neck to see what's happening down the block if you're going to ride right into a pothole or a storm grate. Plus, you don't need to see over the cars, you need to see between them. You're riding through traffic, not over it. Then again, when you've got no brakes and it takes you half a block to stop, I guess you need to see as far down the street as possible. Maybe Soma can make an urban periscope. In fact, the reason you can't see over traffic is because everyone's driving SUVs so they can see over traffic, and you can see how well that turned out for everybody.
Of course, well before Nabiis set out on the "Tour de Taiwan," MASH already proved that track bikes make bad road bikes by riding the Tour of California stages on them:
Yes, the track bike is beautifully simple, but sometimes simplicity is complexity--especially when you need to stop yourself with your foot on a descent after dropping your chain. Actually, in this case, simplicity has leapfrogged over complexity and gone right to absurdity.
Furthermore, MASH seem to be positioning themselves as the fixed-gear Rapha. Just take a look at the copy for this "epic"-themed t-shirt:
One of the most beautiful moments in cycling is when riders are climbing up a mountain pass with their explosive energy and descending down to a valley floor with equally explosive power. There is a sense of sublime that bring us closer to the most primal part of nature within us. For this shirt, I wanted to create a single-minded design that captures this sense of sublime and to commemorate their incredible effort that went into riding the Tour of California by MASH riders on their fixed gear bikes this Spring. It was an epic attempt to provide all of us with much needed courage and possibilities to live our lives with beauty and simplicity.
Wow, that's a lot of words for picture of a mountain with an explosion on the top. Actually, my understanding of successful road riding is that you're not supposed to blow up on the climb. Being able to downshift on the ascent and upshift on the descent instead of stomping up one side and frantically spinning down the other can go a long way towards preventing this from happening. Throw a couple of brakes into the bargain and you won't even have to peform a "foot jam" if something goes wrong.
Even those "Albion in the Gloaming" guys are palping derailleurs on their own iteration of the "epic." As you can see from their site, they're well under way, and they don't seem to be rubbing the bikes from the bird-miming video:
While I'm pleased to see they seem to be riding relatively sensible bikes, I hope they realize doing so is not a good way to get attention--especially if they want to sell something. That's why I'm planning my own publicity-seeking "epic," in which I'm going to ride across the country on a singlespeed mountain bike. 50 gear inches, 30psi, and absolutely no point.