Friday, August 22, 2014

A Reflection on Europe

     Whether it should be considered an epic or simply an experience, I do know that it was the adventure of a lifetime. After having time to reflect on the two months of Belgian and European road racing, which I embarked on from the end of June to the beginning of August, I have found myself constantly returning to thoughts about the phenomenal European culture. The time that I spent overseas is a trip that will be remembered for the remainder of my life.
     The roller-coaster ride began with "Team Rokform Junior Development," which is based out of Orange County, California. Supported by generous sponsors and selfless management, Team Rokform offers a European racing trip every summer. Our living arrangements involved spending time at "The Chainstay," in Oudenaarde, Belgium, while touring Brugge, Ghent, and watching a stage of the Tour de France. In between, kermesse road racing was frequent and a rapid learning curve was in store for all seven Team Rokform competitors. The warm and dry climate of sunny Southern California did not prepare me for what I was about to face. Belgium, which is known for being a wet weather country, continued to support its wild reputation. Driving rain, horrendous wind, fierce competitors, narrow roads, brutal cobblestones, high speeds, and the glory of racing contributed to numerous high and low points. However, day after day it was important to realize that seven foreigners had been given the opportunity to race their bicycles, in Belgium. Realistically, training, racing, and results were important but the friendships, bonding, and memories were even more important.
     After three weeks of racing with Team Rokform and living at "The Chainstay," I was faced with a difficult decision. I had been offered the opportunity to race with "Sport en Steun - Leopoldsburg," a junior cycling team based in Belgium. In an attempt to continue living out a dream, I accepted the offer and was set to spend time in Rijmenam, Belgium, with an extremely generous host family and one teammate. Transitioning from an American team to a Belgian team proved simple. I was treated well and was always included in the affairs, except for when Dutch was spoken. However, a translation would typically be uttered within moments. Four more weeks, in Belgium, allowed for tremendous racing, including competing against the United States National Team, and a trip to Mechelen. Mechelen confirmed the fact that Europe is filled with bountiful history, beautiful styling, and good eats. As my time in Europe was coming to a close, the travel had to end on a high note.
     Throughout my final week in Belgium, I had the opportunity to take a step back from racing and cherish time with my host family, friends, and teammates. Taking advantage of the mouth-watering friets (fries), rice pudding, pannekoken (pancakes), and chocolate left me joyous. Unfortunately, all good things come to an end, at least temporarily. It was time to depart and my Belgian team manager, who provided an ongoing taxi service, transported me to the airport. We shared one last meal together and exchanged thoughts, memories, and words of advice, which will always be ringing in my mind.
     Overall, I am blessed to have had the opportunity to race and spend time in Europe. I would not have changed a single thing about the trip. Ultimately, everything from the outstanding results and great friendships to the sickness and crashing, added to experience of a lifetime.

With hard work and dedication, anything is possible.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Product Review: Lezyne Pressure Drive Hand Pump

     Lezyne stands out as an absolutely exceptional company, within the cycling industry. Through an intricate focus on premium engineering and manufacturing, they have excelled in the construction of numerous cycling accessories. With a product line that includes LED lights, shop tools, and pumps, there is an obvious focus on providing behind the scenes items, to the best of their ability. As sponsorship covers both Specialized Lululemon and Lotto Belisol, the professional female and male pelotons have been infiltrated with Lezyne products. It is now time to bring the Lezyne Pressure Drive hand pump to your local group ride.

Pros: Compact Nature to Barrel Extension, ABS Flex Hose, Presta/Shrader Compatibility
Cons: Timing

Compact Nature to Barrel Extension
     The Lezyne Pressure Drive hand pump has the capability to transform, from a compact stature, into an optimal inflation device. The massive barrel extension greatly reduces inflation time (to a maximum of 120psi), while increasing the amount of pressure that is being transferred. Although the Lezyne Pressure Drive is a slightly larger hand pump, it has capabilities that prevent the user from thinking twice about storage, especially during longer rides.

Complete extension. 


ABS Flex Hose
     Once a hand pump that includes an ABS flex hose is owned, it is impossible to retrieve a normal hand pump. What was previously overrated, in my mind, is now a necessity for every hand pump. The ABS flex hose cleanly transfers air between the hand pump and a presta/shrader valve stem. Without seeping air and continuous readjustment, it is possible to rapidly decrease the time needed to inflate a flat tire.

The ABS flex hose is stored inside of the Lezyne Pressure Drive hand pump. During use, it is screwed into the opposite end of the hand pump.

The ABS flex hose is firmly attached to the valve stem, through a threaded system. The flexible nature, of the hose, greatly reduces the possibility of breaking a valve stem, during inflation.

Lezyne has done an outstanding job of covering even the smallest details. At the head of the flex hose is a miniscule black button. After inflating a tire, simply press the black button and release any excess pressure that is stored within the hand pump. This design prevents air from escaping, once the flex hose is unscrewed from the valve stem. While using a floor pump, it is not uncommon to hear air escape, as the head of the floor pump is released from the valve stem. Lezyne has taken this issue out of the picture.

Presta/Shrader Compatibility
     As previously mentioned, the Lezyne Pressure Drive hand pump is compatible with both presta and shrader valves.

Timing
     The debate between CO2 devices and hand pumps may never end. During testing and use of the Lezyne Pressure Drive hand pump, there were no major downsides or flaws. However, a CO2 device does have the ability to inflate a tire in seconds. The Pressure Drive has the ability to inflate a tire, as quickly as someone is willing to pump. The use of CO2 has its time and place but I would not trade out the Lezyne Pressure Drive hand pump for a CO2 device.

     Overall, I was thoroughly impressed with the Lezyne Pressure Drive hand pump. Its compact nature but extreme extension and brilliant design certainly made me a fan. For more information on Lezyne and the Lezyne Pressure Drive hand pump, please visit here. Thank you very much for reading. Please leave your comments and questions below.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Product Review: Specialized S-Works Evade Helmet


Front view.
     The Specialized S-Works Evade Helmet checks all of the necessary boxes, in style, comfort, performance, and safety. Combining versatility and its multiple capabilities, this is a helmet fit for many occasions. For more information on the S-Works Evade, keep on scrolling!

Pros: Versatility, Aerodynamics, Airflow, Retention System, Sleek Design
Cons: Rear Strap, Sunglasses Placement

Versatility
     The S-Works Evade has the potential to be used in just about any cycling discipline. Mark Cavendish races with the Evade, during road competitions. Tom Boonen races with the Evade, during the Spring Classics. Zdenek Stybar won the 2014 Cyclocross World Championships, with an Evade. Christoph Sauser and Rebecca Rusch wear the Evade, during extreme endurance mountain bike races. If you are looking for an advantage, the Evade is real possibility, regardless of pin-pointing a specific use.

Aerodynamics/Airflow
     With an increasing interest in aerodynamics and aerodynamic helmets, it appears to be the craze of cycling. High-level Specialized sponsored athletes are known for providing feedback on prototype equipment. Tom Boonen, in particular, is known for having worn prototype shoes and helmets, from Specialized, in the past. This plan of attack is working well for Specialized, who have a wide range of resources at their disposal, including athletes, engineers, and wind tunnels.
     Although personal tests have not been performed, the Evade claims to save 46 seconds over 40 kilometers, as stated on the Specialized website. In a sport that has the potential to be decided by seconds, the Evade is a real advantage. In this case, improved aerodynamics does not mean a lack of airflow. During periods of exercise, the Evade maintains steady airflow and cooling. As compared with other road helmets, it is not ideal but the job is accomplished.

Retention System
     Quite honestly, there is little to be said about the retention system used within the Evade. It is simple, precise, and has a wide range of tightness settings. The retention system is used all over the helmet line of Specialized.
 
Rear Strap/Sunglasses Placement
     At this point, it is necessary to nit-pick the intriguing design of the Evade. The rear portion of the helmet is sloping and lower, compared to a traditional road helmet. This design causes the rear strap to encroach on a rider's ears. Although this is not a horrific trade-off and it is rarely noticeable, it is a minor flaw.
     Also, due to the aerodynamic design of the Evade, it is difficult to place a set of sunglasses within the helmet vents. However, with more and more riders placing sunglasses on the rear of their heads or their jersey, this issue does not arise extremely often. Pairing an Evade helmet with a Headsweats band allows for optimal use with no sweat intervention.
Side view.
Rear view.
Aerial view.
     From the weekend warrior to the weekend racer, the Specialized S-Works Evade Helmet is a phenomenal upgrade that will provide free speed. For more information, on the Evade, please visit the following link: http://www.specialized.com/us/en/ftr/helmets/road-helmets/sworks-evade. Thank you for reading.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Host Housing

     An essential for all cyclists looking to travel and race, especially to foreign countries, is host housing. Thanks to the generosity and compassion of both communal living arrangements and private living arrangements, it is possible to maintain a comfortable, healthy lifestyle, while living the dream.

Communal Living
     Communal living is the primary host housing for cycling teams or large groups of cyclists. This type of living arrangement is comprised of numerous bedrooms, shared bathrooms, common rooms, and a cooking area. Cyclists are responsible for shopping, cooking, cleaning, and maintaining a healthy, sanitary location. Communal living is typically on a short term basis. However, some communal houses offer long term attractions. Within Belgium, "The Chainstay" is a well maintained and comfortable communal living arrangement. "The Chainstay" is located in Oudenaarde, Belgium and it remains open for the entire year. Additional information, on "The Chainstay," may be found here.

Bicycle storage.
Second floor hallway.
Common area.
Cycling is life.
Independent Family Living
     Independent family living is generously offered by families who are willing to host cyclists. Living with a host family is usually reserved for individuals or small groups of cyclists. During the second part of my stay in Belgium, I have been staying with a host family. They have been absolutely amazing! In addition to having precise knowledge of terrain and location, they have the ability to assist with food and laundry. Food and laundry are two necessities.
     My host family connection came at the hands of my current Belgian team manager. Host families are usually interconnected with cycling, cycling managers, and cycling culture. Living with a new family is certainly a give and take relationship. It is imperative to provide for the family and not interrupt their daily schedules.

Host families know the best local bakeries.
Here is a quick video of a post-Tour de France professional criterium. The criterium was approximately 25 kilometers from my host house.

     All in all, I have been extremely fortunate throughout my time in Belgium. It has been a privilege to compete against some of the best cyclists in the world, all while fostering new friendships with young adults, teammates, and adults. Thank you very much for the support and always consider opening your doors to an aspiring cyclist. A little support has the potential to go a long way.