Television footage of this year’s Tour de France was a reminder of just how poor a spectator sport cycling can be.
Sure, the race lacked drama because two major protagonists, Alberto Contador and Chris Froome, crashed out early. But even on a good year, I bet most viewers cue up the DVR and skip ahead to the last 10 or 15 minutes—or, best-case scenario, the final climb.
This year, however, saw a development that could finally add some intrigue: on-bike cameras. For the first time in history, Tour de France organizer ASO permitted video cameras to be mounted onto riders’ bicycles.
The move followed the very first use of video cameras in the pro peloton earlier this spring. Footage from the Tour de Suisse in June, especially a video of the sprint finish on Stage 5, captured the hectic nature of the final few kilometers of a professional race. Likewise, a video shot by Giant-Shimano sprinter John Degenkolb on the first stage of the Tour of California gave a sense of what it takes to win at this level—well, almost win as Degenkolb took a razor thin second place on the stage to sprinter Mark Cavendish.
At the Tour, Shimano outfitted eight of its sponsored teams, including BMC, Giant-Shimano, Orica-GreenEdge, and Sky, with the company’s new Shimano CM-1000 camera. The resulting footage appeared on both the team’s pages as well as on the official Tour de France website.
Several Garmin-Sharp riders were also equipped with its sponsor’s new VIRB Action Camera, which resulted in a series of first-person videos on the team website. The capture from Stage 7 is especially interesting as it overlays rider metrics like speed, heart rate, distance, and power collected by the VIRB via ANT+.
The most unconventional first-person footage came from Europecar’s Kevin Reza. After a Lotto-Bellisol racer collided with a fan on the side of the road, Reza scooped up the spectator’s helmet cam, which had tumbled into the road, and filmed several minutes of the race before passing it to his team car.
The use of cameras in the peloton is partly a reflection of just how advanced the technology has become. At 180g, the Garmin VIRB isn’t smallest camera out there, but it captures 1080p HD video as well as GPS data and cycle-specific data such as heart rate and power. The Shimano CM-1000 captures similar high-quality footage and data and weighs just 86 grams. Given these units’ diminutive size, they can be mounted on the bars or below the saddle without much effect or impediment to a racer.
However the video these cameras capture provides arguably the most interesting way to watch pro cycling. They convey the fury and treacherousness of bike racing in a way that traditional footage shot from a motorcycle or helicopter cannot.
You see riders touching and bumping one another, get a feeling for just how tight and fast they are racing, and, thanks to the sound of yelling, heaving breathing, and camera shake while sprinting, register how difficult it must be. The recap from Stage 1 of the Tour conveys just how tough it was to stay upright in the final few kilometers of the race.
As good as the footage is, however, what’s now missing is the ability to stream live during a race. Watching firsthand footage after the fact is great, but it would be even better if television could cut back and forth between top view from a helicopter, front view from a motorcycle, and footage captured within the peloton while it happens.
“There are challenges, circling primarily around weight and battery life, that have to be resolved,” before live streaming is a reality, says Dustin Brady, marketing manager at Shimano America.
He explains that while the cameras are tiny now, it will take some time before batteries will be both small enough and have a long enough life to last the duration of an entire stage. The addition of a radio transmitter will also add weight and bulk. “We are talking about professional cyclist needing to climb the Col du Galibier or Col du Tourmalet or ride for five hours in pouring rain. Additional weight matters.”
That might sound discouraging, but the fact is the technology is only in its infancy: Both the VIRB and the CM-1000 were launched this year. Meanwhile, the decision to allow on-bike video at the Tour was even more recent. “We only found out after the Tour had started that the team could use action cameras,” says Amy Johnson, the media relations associate at Garmin, “So I think it was fairly sporadic this year.”
In a sport that tends to be resistant to change, the fact that these cameras have been adopted as quickly as they have is heartening. Hopefully governing bodies will move forward with similar programs, and manufacturers will fast track development. If not, television coverage of pro cycling may live—and perhaps die—by the DVR.
It's a sad fact: winter is shrinking. The Rutgers University Global Snow Lab reports that the Northern Hemisphere has lost more than a million square miles of snow since 1970. That's why the hottest trend in the winter-sports industry is warm-weather activities. In April, the U.S. Forest Service implemented a new system that makes it significantly easier for resorts to get permits for things like canopy tours and ropes courses. Here are four of the best excuses to get back on the lift—this time in shorts and a T-shirt.
Walk the Razor's Edge
Fernie, British Columbia Fernie has long been overshadowed by provincial brethren like Whistler and Revelstoke, which is fine by locals—the serious alpine terrain is largely empty. Try the ridge traverse across the breathtaking Lizards Range crest. Start at the top of the Timber chairlift and take a 20-minute stroll through open meadows past Lost Boys Pass and, if you want the added security, along a short fixed rope to 7,010-foot Polar Peak, where the views span from southern Alberta to Montana. From there the three-mile loop winds down through wildflower meadows to the Lost Boys Café, where you can down a well-earned Kokanee. $22 lift ticket.
Bikes and Bikram
Snowmass and Aspen, Colorado The two signature resorts in Colorado's Roaring Fork Valley, Snowmass and Aspen, deliver summer's yin and yang. Snowmass has the adrenaline rush: it already boasts the only lift-served 4,000-foot mountain-bike descent in the U.S., starting above the treeline and ending in the high desert. And this year the resort is teaming up with the renowned trail builders at Gravity Logic to add a full-size beginner park and pump track. Upvalley at Aspen, it's a bit mellower. Take the Silver Queen gondola to the 11,212-foot Sundeck for thrice-weekly yoga sessions with views of the Maroon Bells and Pyramid Peak. Bonus: the Sundeck hosts bluegrass shows every Sunday throughout the summer.
Mammoth Mountain, California Southern California's largest resort has a long affiliation with downhill mountain biking. Last year, Mammoth brought back the Kamikaze Bike Games, the precursor to the Mountain Bike World Championships, which included the sport's first lift-served downhill race in 1986. The revamped games now feature gravity, cross-country, and cyclocross races over four days in September. If you can't make it then, check out the updated bike park—where attendance has grown 22 percent in the past two years—and its new pump track, beginner loop, and skills park (think small drops, berms, and bridges). $49 day pass, $359 season pass.
Take to the Trees
Stowe, Vermont This year, Stowe—already one of Vermont's busiest summer hubs—debuts two fresh options. The first is a zip line near the top of 4,395-foot Mount Mansfield that sends visitors whizzing down 2,150 vertical feet over roughly two miles. The second is a high ropes course on Spruce Peak that will feature six routes for kids and adults alike, with challenges suspended up to 30 feet above the ground. If you prefer to remain on terra firma, there's always the 150-year-old, unpaved Auto Toll Road, which leads to Mansfield's summit ridge, where a 1.3-mile hike puts you atop Vermont's highest peak.
In 2007, Boston was ranked the worst biking city in the U.S. by Bicycling magazine—for the third time. There were plenty of reasons: lack of lanes, poor road conditions, boorish drivers. Today, Boston is on its way to becoming one of the country’s most bike-friendly cities, and it’s the first to create a public bike program targeting low-income communities. The main reason for the one-eighty: former Olympian Nicole Freedman.
Freedman grew up in the Boston suburbs, rode professionally for 12 years (she won the national road-racing trial in 2000), and holds a degree in urban planning from Stanford University. In 2007, when Freedman was tasked with heading up the city’s newly launched Boston Bikes program, the city had zero bike lanes and a dismal safety record. In 2006, there were 36 bike accidents in one intersection alone.
Freedman, 42, was undaunted. She created 14 miles of bike lanes in her first two years on the job and hasn’t slowed down since. The city is now rated 16th by Bicycling. And Freedman recently secured a $15 million grant to build protected lanes, including a four-mile ring around downtown. “Cities need plans,” says Martha Roskowski, VP of the national advocacy group People for Bikes. “But they really need people like Nicole who can turn them into action.”
As Americans have finally begun to embrace the idea of bikes as transportation, other cities have made turnarounds of their own. Washington, D.C., now has six miles of protected lanes, and Chicago’s bike-share program is on pace to have 475 stations by the end of the year. What sets Boston apart is the progressive bent of its efforts. “It was really important to make sure that we reached residents with low incomes,” says Freedman. “They’re the ones most impacted by transportation costs.” Hubway, the city’s bike-share system, recently began subsidizing memberships for those making less than $20,000 a year. In March, Freedman launched Prescribe-A-Bike, which offers low-income residents a reduced $5 annual Hubway membership if a doctor recommends riding for health reasons. (Nearly 2,500 people have since signed up.) And, finally, Boston Bikes has donated more than 1,000 bicycles to in-need locals. “Cycling is universally appealing,” says Freedman. “We just have to make it accessible.”
It's not just about the bikes at the 2014 Tour. Many companies use the world’s biggest race to unveil all manner of gear. And why not? Stick a racer in your helmet, shoe, or jersey, and if they win a stage or place well, you can claim your product helped. We can’t verify all of that, but here are a few of the new things we’ve seen that we like.
Lace-up cleats have made a bit of a comeback in recent years, in part thanks to American Taylor Phinney’s affinity for them. The original Empire was already lightweight and trim, but Giro has pared the shoe down further for the new SLX version. With an even trimmer EC90 SLXII carbon outsole and a highly ventilated Teijin upper, a size 42.5 SLX weighs just six ounces—about the same as a large banana.
Aero road helmets have exploded since Giro launched the first-of-its kind Air Attack two years ago. Bell’s Star Pro is a bit different than most because it uses a system that allows riders to either close or open the vents, improving aerodynamics or ventilation respectively. Bell says that in wind-tunnel testing, the Star Pro had the least drag of any of its aero competition (the Specialized Evade and Air Attack among them), while it was cooler than the average road helmet with vents open. Some models will include a sun visor, which attaches with built-in magnets.
This jersey, worn by Team Sky, takes lightweight to an almost ridiculous level. The open-mesh body fabric is so lightweight and gossamer that the garment comes with a warning tag that it must be worn with sunblock for safety reasons. It is, indeed, extremely comfortable on stuffy days, and as with all Rapha apparel, the fit and tailoring is just right. The locking zip, which keeps the jersey secure with the thob down but allows for quick cooling with just a tug of the fabric if the thob is up, is a nice touch. And though we have nothing against Team Sky, we do wish this jersey was available in a non-Team edition for less-conspicuous riding.
Ironically, after typing that about wanting a non-branded version of the climber’s jersey, the Course Superleggera 2 showed up, and it’s mostly cut from the same gauzy fabric used by Rapha, which Garneau calls Kite Mesh. An extremely sheer Lycra covers the upper chest and shoulder blades, a material that Garneau uses in order to add a Cold Black treatment for UV protection. This one also has a neat, laser-perforated elastic waistband, and it’s nominally lighter than the Rapha—90 grams for a size medium. Wisely, Garneau is opting to offer it to the public in options other than the cash green of Europcar, which, in Rapha’s defense, isn’t nearly as fetching as the Sky design.
Remember those giant, ski-goggle-esque glasses that Greg Lemond, Andy Hampsten, and all the cool kids wore back in the ‘80s? They’re back, courtesy of a Heritage line by Oakley. The resurgent Eyeshades (as well as two other models, the Razorblades and Frogskins) come in three lifestyle colorways (Seafoam, Black, and Fog), as well as a Tour-de-France edition that has white frames adorned with a color swatch to match the three jerseys of the Tour. And yes, there are some pros actually wearing these.
Those paying close attention might have noticed a few riders with cameras mounted to their bikes. For the first time in history, the UCI has approved the use of these electronics at the Tour, and Shimano has placed a number of its new CM-1000 with sponsored teams. The diminutive device sports an f2.0 lens that records in 1080 HD, and it’s also ANT+ and WiFi enabled so it can talk to a host of devices, including Shimano’s new Di2 transmitter, power meters, and smart phones. Shimano is hush hush about what it plans to do with any video it might collect, but footage from the Tour de Suisse in June has become a bit of an internet sensation.