America – The Innovator of Modern Day Cycling Equipment

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It is kind of strange being involved in the sport as long as I have. Watching the changes in equipment has been super interesting. When I first started racing, there really wasn’t much innovaton in the sport. It had been 5 speed freewheels for years, with steel frames and tubular tires on aluminum rims. The sport was sort of stuck in time.

But, just about when I got hooked, other America’s got hooked too and some real innovations in all aspects of equipment involved in the sport changed.

I was working at a local bike shop, Gran Sport, when Trek started business back in 1976 I think. I bought my high school girlfriend a Trek frame because it was super cheap and pretty okay quality. I don’t think Trek sold 1000 frames that first year.

Trek got into carbon way before everyone else. But, by then, all the companies were starting to innovate. That was the motto for Specialized for years, “Innovate or Die.” When I rode for Specialized, I think they were upgrading equipment nearly too fast. Their sales people didn’t even have enough time to convince the buyers how great the products were before they had already produced a newer product. It seemed nuts.

Talking about Specialized, I was talking to Mike Sinyard, the founder of Specialized Bicycles and I was saying something about how I’d been using his products for close to 30 years, when off the top of his head, he recited the address to Michael’s Cyclery, in Ames, Iowa. He said that he’d packed and addressed so many boxes to our team that he could never forget the address. Mike was the Henry Ford of MTB bikes. And the first person to actually produce water bottles in the US. Pretty great stuff.

I was riding the Coor’s Classic when Brian Maxwell and his wife, Jennifer, started making Powerbars in their kitchen and brought them to us before the start of each stage in San Francisco. It really didn’t seem that strange that a local couple from the bay area was cooking nutrition bars and handing them out. I guess it was the times. Before they came, we filled our pockets with Bananas, grapes, Fig Newtons and such.

My brother and I made a bike rack from my mom’s station wagon when I was an intermediate (young junior). We took a couple 2 x 4’s and bolted them onto the roof face and held our bikes to them upside down with u-clamps on the bars, held on with bolts with wing nuts. There really weren’t any real bike racks.

I remember when I first saw the word Yakama. It was on the side of the Raleigh Team van. We called up Michael, our team director, and demanded that each of us get one, even though we didn’t have any idea what it was. When he told us bike racks, we didn’t care much. Little did we know.

Later that year, at the Coor’s Classic, I was eating breakfast and noticed someone crawling around on the top of our team van. I went outside and asked the guy what he was doing. It was the president of Yakima, Don Banducci, putting a wind deflector on the front of our rack. Yakima printed a poster a couple years later with a picture of the field in the Coor’s Classic and I was at the front, but over on the left side of the road by myself, looking back and it said, “Yakima, look for us at the back of the pack.” Or something like it. It’s one of my favorite posters, probably because of the scenery and the whole race stretched out in the distance.

I wore a hairnet helmet forever. I was on the board of directors of the USCF when we voted in the hard helmet rule. The Bell V-1 Pro was just about the only helmet commercially available. I remember going to the bike show in the fall, a couple months before the rule was going to go into effect, and this young racer, Jim Gentes, was running around the show with this piece of styro foam, that weighed nearly nothing, and was asking me if I’d be interested in using it to race. I thought he was nuts, thinking there was no way it was going to pass the ANSI or SNELL tests. Boy, was I wrong. He went ahead a put a thing piece of lycra over the foam and Giro was started. Jim is still racing his bike and livin’ the life.

I was also on the USCF board when Boone Lennon, the inventor of clip-on bars, came and tried to convince us to not outlaw the bars for mass start racing. I have to say, that I, single handily, was the one that made that happen. Everyone else on the board seemed okay with it, but I spoke up. I asked why doesn’t someone go out and ride them in a criterium, with a dip in the last corner and see how well that works out. Or try them in a cyclo-x. I explained that there is a very good reason for elbows in the equation of bike riding and not falling off your bike. Boone slipped me a pair of bars in the rest room and told me to go out and try them, but I still voted no. It just wasn’t, and still isn’t a very good idea.

I hadn’t really thought much about this before. These are just a few things that have changed in the last few decades in the sport of bicycle racing. And all these ideas and innovations were by American guys that just liked to ride their bikes. Guys like you and me. We, as a country of cyclists, really changed the way the technical side of the sport developed. At the same time, Greg LeMond and a bunch of other American riders were changing the way the Europeans perceived the US in the sport too. I actually think it was the riders that legitimized the American products, but maybe the products did that on their own. Maybe not, I don’t really know. I do know it was a great time to be involved in the sport.

In 1986, here was the helmet style.
Early in 1986

Then no helmets out of the country or at domestic Pro races. I think Bernard has his helmet because we’d all crashed so many times in the RCN. This was in Columbia, riding for La Vie Claire.

Then domestically, we wore Bell V1-Pros. Man, those were some fugly helmets.

I still like Fig Newtons. I don’t eat them often enough.

24 thoughts on “America – The Innovator of Modern Day Cycling Equipment

  1. bill hall

    So true Steve. I use to wear a skid lid on my to commute back in the 80’s ,I thought I was so protected. I remember doing local road races with guys who had aero bars all the time, so we’d just let them pull and they didn’t seem to mind. Like they wanted to show the aero advantage. Good article ,good stuff.

  2. Bryan

    Just one comment – it’s Yakima, not Yakama. I’ve used my Yak rack in some form now since at least 1990. I’ve always used a roof rack and I’ve noticed how rare it is to see them anymore. I can get my bike on/off my rack and put together so much faster than I’ve ever seen a trunk rack user be able to do.

  3. Telford Crisco

    Great story. Pretty neat to look back and think of all the great changes that have come out of the US. I still have my ’84 Trek 770 with Campy Super Record hanging in my basement. It was worth way more than my car when I bought it while working at Hub City Cycles.

  4. Ted

    I remember buying a Trek at Eastern Mountain Sports in Boston when I was in school there – 1981. Trek had been around a bit before you say, probably 1976. Sadly, I dumped that Trek to “upgrade” to an Italian racing bike – an Atala Record with Nouvo Record. Trek was seen much more as a touring bike then – hence the name.

  5. Bill K

    Full circle.
    I also remember starting out racing in the mid 80’s with steel frames, and tubular tires on aluminum rims.
    Here it is in 2012, and I’m still racing on a steel frame, with tubular tires on aluminum rims.


    I remember fondly when Paceline dropped off the 1st Chamois Butt’r samples about ’98ish. Ahhh ya.

  7. Selvey

    I really want to know how you retain so much information? I can’t recall a bike race I did 5 years ago (and haven’t done 5% of the racing you have), yet you can recall the attacks that occurred in races from 20 plus years.

    I really enjoy your insight on things. Very entertaining to read.

  8. Brian W

    I really enjoy visiting your site everyday, I always learn something and find everything very interesting. Thanks for being real!

  9. Rod Lake

    I remember when you tried to explain to everybody on the Tuesday night ride about the new shift/brake levers. There were a lot of confused -looking faces. And my favorite, Look pedals.

  10. tilford97 Post author

    I think the best innovation since I started riding is lycra shorts with synthetic chamois. I would ride toe clips before I put back on a pair of shorts with a leather shammy.

  11. Stanley

    Speaking of new equipment…have you heard of the new battery powered “hot” pants the Brits are using for warm up purposes prior to track racing? Apparently they heat up and can be pulled off in an instant using the quick release zips! They are calling them their secret weapon.

  12. shaun w

    Did you see what wheel Wiggins had in the front in the TT?…. the DuPont/Specialized/Hed tri-spoke!

    Re the move to helmets for cycling, whilst it’s certainly an innovation, certainly outside of racing there’s no evidence that it’s been beneficial. No reductions in serious injury rates have shown up that can be attributed to them, and it’s unknown how many are discouraged from cycling because of the suggestion that it’s inherently dangerous. Cycling is no more dangerous than being a driver or pedestrian, but the huge huge killer is heart disease from lack of exercise.

    Good info here from a pro-safe-cycling site

  13. Bryan

    I would argue that helmets ARE beneficial. I’ve literally destroyed two helmets in crashes. Not “banged them up a bit'” but crushed and cracked the foam in the helmet in myriads of places. In both cases without the helmet I would likely have been in a coma, suffered a traumatic brain injury or had brains scooped up off the ground without the helmet.

    I’m not a advocate of mandatory helmet laws, I just ask that you don’t ask the taxpayer to foot the bill for long term care when the non-helmeted rider crashes and ends up in a coma due to brain injury.

  14. tilford97 Post author

    Shaun-The tri-spoke is the fastest wheel on the market, case closed. I’ve been riding them for years and have a bunch in my basement in various states of usefulness.

  15. shaun w

    Agree totally, Steve re the wheels. Remarkable that a 25 year old design is still the fastest.
    Same with the Campy Ghibli disk. 1986 and still the fastest.

    Bryan, agree about everyone having to have health insurance. Read my link to put your personal experience in perspective and PLEASE don’t go thinking it’s making you safer as that’s just going to lead to further accidents. By far the 3 most important factors are your choices of Who you ride with, Where and When. relax on any of these because of a piece of foam, and chances are you’re doing more harm than good.
    Ride safely!

  16. Robert Bleck

    I was an early adopter on the Bell helmet. I think it was the predecessor to the one in the picture. Man was that heavy.
    On the theme of the article I would like to mention Richard Byrne of Speedplay. His pedals are dominant in the market and have been a godsend to those of us with bum knees.

  17. Bryan

    My first helmet was an old hardshell Bell that I hated. It had very few vents and since I lived in South Texas was HOT. It wasn’t long before I switch to one of the shell-less styrofoam models.

    I loved those helmets. They came with a manufacturer mesh cover, and you could buy several different styles to meet your mood that ride. I used those for years but now much prefer the “hybrid” foam helmets that have a light “hard” cover over the top. They move air well so they aren’t that hot and I always wear a bandana on my head to keep sweat from running down my head.


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