it’s not the most comfortable of situations these days for Campagnolo. once the foremost supplier of groupsets and wheels to the very best cycling teams in the world, Campagnolo saw its market share guzzled away first by the arrival of Shimano’s top-end groupsets in the 70s and then by the blitzkrieg unleashed by the new kids on the block, Sram.
crankpunk had the pleasure of catching up with fellow racer and former 7-11 and Motorola rider Nathan Dahlberg of New Zealand. Nathan’s extraordinary career as a pro began in 1988, which saw him ride the Tour de France, not to mention participating in classics such as the Tour of Flanders. currently Directeur Sportif with the Plan B Continental racing team, Nathan, now 47, continues to race and to love riding. i wanted to ask him about his career and about how he managed to survive the Euro peloton.
crankpunk: how did you end up in Europe in the first place?
Nathan Dahlberg: i was looking to go as a junior in 1983, and i’d ridden the Junior World’s in New Zealhand and i met the French federation president on the plane back to Auckland. i got an address from him and got an address from a club in France and they asked me to go race and that was that, i went and started racing. i was 19 then, 1984.
crankpunk remembers opening ProCycling one day a couple of years or so ago and doing a double take. staring back at me was this fearsome looking machine that cost more than every crankpunkcar i’d had – combined – and with design features that looked like they’d come from another dimension, which, considering that the Factor bike was built by specialist engineers steeped with knowledge of creating stuff for F1, it had.
Factor is the offshoot of bf1systems and one quick look at their original 001 bike told you that its creators had thrown out much of the traditional thinking when they designed this package. the bike caught the eye of Aston Martin, who incorporated a special run of 77 bikes from Factor to stand beside their One-77 supercar. that model became the Aston Martin One-77 by Factor, and was even more expensive – $39,000 US would buy you just one of the limited edition of 77 bikes. that’s quite a dent in the pocket.
in January 2013 the first production model by Factor will be launched in the UK at the London Bike Show, and it’s not too much of an exaggeration to say that the launch is eagerly anticipated by both industry insiders and consumers alike. but how do you go from a $39,000 uberbike to an affordable production version whilst staying true to the philosophy of the original?
crankpunk managed to wangle an interview with Factor’s head designer Steve Domahidy, the man responsible for making it all happen.
crankpunk: can you tell me a little about your background?
Steve Domahidy: sure, I was the co-founder of Niner Bikes and I did all the design and R&D for every Niner bike that is in their current line up, including the RIP 9 RDO which is the last bike I worked on before I left last year.
cp: so is your background mainly with MTB?
SD: i’ve done some road bike design and product development and i’ve been in the bike industry for 25 years. i worked for SRAM for a year, i did product design and management for an in-house brand prior to starting Niner, which was in 2004. i knew that the 29 inch wheel was going to be huge, that it was the next evolutionary step in MTB and i wanted to be on the cutting edge of that.
i got to the point though where i wanted to spread my wings a little further and it was the right time to try something new.
cp: how did you make the transition from Niner to working with Factor?
SD: it’s funny, when Factor first sent out the press releases for the Factor 001 bike, i remember looking at it – this is almost 4 years ago now – i remember seeing it and being pretty blown away by what they were doing, and i guess i lodged it in my brain and didn’t know exactly what to do with it. i knew that they had something completely unique and out of the box though.
so, as i was leaving Niner i kind of threw some stuff against the wall and wasn’t exactly sure what my next step would be, and then i just thought ‘i wonder what happened with that bike, the Factor 001?’ i looked them up and it was still the same stuff, not much had changed, and i called them and asked if they were willing to do a production version of the 001.
what was evident from the original 001 was that these guys were out of the box thinkers and had amazing resources to do some amazing things, and that they knew absolutely nothing about the bike industry. you could tell by looking at the bike. the way it was put together was coming from no understanding of bikes or the industry. and that was absolutely their point, they were coming at it from an engineering perspective and not one rooted in the normal traditions of road bike design. but if they wanted to do a production version they would need my kind of expertise.
cp: what specifically was it about the 001 that led you to those conclusions?
SD: the way the hubs connected to the frame made it almost impossible for quick wheel removal, having the disk brake on the front on the right side, which doesn’t actually matter but it just looked odd having them on different sides, the cranks, the BB system and the way they’d laid out the BB and seat tube, it was wider than it should be on a road bike. unless you’d ridden a lot and spent time in the bike industry you wouldn’t consider those things. also the handlebars and stem and computer system are all one piece of carbon fiber on the 001, which is totally cool from an aesthetic standpoint but not from a practical standpoint. people need different width bars and like different angles, and you wouldn’t be able to facilitate that on the 001.
having said that, they were two years ahead of the curve on hydraulic disc brakes on a road bike.
cp: the 001 became the Aston Martin version of the bike, and that was $39,000US, quite a lot of money.
SD: yes. there were some modifications made to the original 001 when it was licensed to Aston Martin, to link in with their 1-77 series. That’s their $2 million supercar, they made 77 of them, and they had a set of licensed 1-77 products of which the bike was one of them. so the Factor 001 morphed into the Aston Martin 1-77 bike by Factor, and there were only 77 of them built also.
cp: what’s the name of the new bike?
SD: that press release will be out next week so i’ll let you know.
cp: and is the price going to be different to the 1-77?
SD: yeah very, this is a production bike. one of the things that was extraordinary about the original 001 was that it was completely integrated from top to bottom. computer and electronics were integrated within the frame, there’s just one battery that controls the Di2 and the on-board computer. the bike offers an incredible amount of data to the rider, over 100 different measurements being taken by the computer at any given time.
the new bike, the objective was to continue on the path of the 001. it’s a bike that comes complete, out of the box, ready to ride. the challenge for me with the new bike was to incorporate the integration of the original bike but to make it firstly cost effective, and secondly palatable for the rider, and to make it a race bike. i wanted something you take from the box, put the wheels on and can go race.
when we began the project i wanted to honor the original things they were doing on the original bike because what they did on the 001 wasn’t merely for looks, but had actual scientific reasoning behind it. i also wanted to make it a bike that people could ride – have a seatpost that you can move up and down, have bars you can shift angles on and a stem unit that allowed you to change the bar width. so the new bike is every bit as radical as the original but more down to earth.
cp: as an engineer what were the most challenging aspects of designing this new Factor bike?
SD: i think that my expertise is to bring both functionality and, if i can say, a beauty into a single entity. it’s very difficult to combine those two aspects. on the Niners the aesthetics are every bit as important as the functionality. you want people to desire the bike, so you have to combine the industrial design with aesthetics. the bike has to do its job and look good too.
the challenge with the new Factor was to keep the innovative design elements but also keep the end price down to one that consumers could agree with. when you see the new bike at the launch in January you’ll see that a lot of what we are doing is unique. it’s hard to describe as i can’t really talk about it, but i had to increase the torsional rigidity of the frame, maintain the ride quality and to make it work.
cp: i’m a roadie now almost exclusively but when i was a kid i also raced MTB. yet these days when i look at some of the MTBs i don’t actually know what i’m looking at, there’s so much stuff there. the bike i had 20 years ago looks so outdated now. yet with road bikes there is really not a great deal of innovation with the UCI sanctioned bikes, apart from the materials being used. do you think that there will be a point where the road bikes that amateurs are riding and racing in non-UCI sanctioned events are going to be better than the ones the pros are using? and can the UCI adapt to that?
SD: that’s already happening, i mean the TT bikes, there are two entirely different disciplines, the triathlon bikes that are used in Ironman events and so on. those events aren’t governed by the UCI and the bikes are getting more and more radical, and companies are willing to invest money in those bikes, such as Specialized.
the UCI rules are so specific that there is only so much a designer can do. companies are less willing to develop radical road bikes as the UCI controls so many events and i understand the need for rules because they want to make it about the rider and not the bike, I get that, and there are similarities in F1. but i think the UCI has taken it a little too far and i think they are too regulatory. carbon fiber has changed what is happening with bikes and the UCI has not adapted to that change.
cp: that’s the story of the UCI in a nutshell… tell me Steve, do you ride?
SD: oh yeah! the reason i am in this industry is that i love bikes, trust me, i’m not doing it for the money. i love bikes, and i think that one reason Niner was so successful was that i made bikes that i wanted to ride and that i thought looked good, and if other people felt that too well, that was the icing on the cake. when i was with Niner one of the coolest things i could hear was that a Niner bike inspired someone to get out of the hospital or to lose weight, just to be able to ride their bike. that was inspiring, and so cool that i could affect people in that way.
yeah i am a massive avid cyclist and i do spend more time on the mountain but i’ve always had a roadbike quiver. i had a BH G5 and a Look 595 that were both very good. these days i’m testing the Factor so i’m on the road more and more. in fact i also tested other bikes as i was designing the new Factor and got hit by a car from behind but thanks to being relatively fit – and thanks to my ability to bounce – i was up and riding within a month.
cp: awesome. thank you Steve.
SD: thanks crankpunk.
crankpunk caught up with Shane Stokes of the cycling website VeloNation.com. Shane is a veteran commentator of the sport who, throughout his career, has sought to publish news and reports as and when they arose that pertained to the fallacy that Lance Armstrong was riding without the aid of performance enhancing drugs.
as a fellow journalist journalist and also as a fellow fan, i was interested in hearing what Shane had to say on not only the case at hand but also about the future of the sport.
the following is a transcript of a conversation that took place on Monday the 22nd of October.
crankpunk: Shane you’ve been very busy recently on the TV and the radio in Ireland.
Shane Stokes: yeah in the last week and a half there’s been three radio slots and two TV slots, and then my normal column in the Irish Times as well, obviously all to do with the Armstrong case. around the world this crucial case has really commandeered a huge coverage.
cp: interesting how the Tour of Beijing just completely disappeared under the fog of the LA case. can you tell me why this has garnered so much interest in Ireland in particular?
SS: I think because, well the pro scene here is quite small, it’s not a massive sport here but it’s quite prominent and has the potential to grow again, but essentially I think it’s because it’s such a tale of skullduggery, and because his name is so well-known and that he was so revered for so long. and here is this picture emerging that is so different to the public view.
cp: and of course he was really the first English-speaking rider to break out of cycling and into the collective consciousness.
SS: there was Greg Lemond before him but yes, I think with LA it was this sustained run of success and also because of the cancer angle. i think the media focused on that and that LA packaged himself in such a way for the appeal but also to ensure that any awkward questions sort of went away. any time awkward questions came up the charity came up as well.
cp: as a fan yourself, what would you say to those people who were saying for many years – and are still saying, in some cases – that we should just forget about his doping or the allegations of doping and move on? why does it matter, they ask…
SS: i disagree with that entirely, couldn’t disagree more strongly. the sport has had enough missed opportunities with Landis, Festina, Puerto and Rasmussen, people thought this was a pivotal point at each point yet the UCI has missed that chance each time. i thought that until four years ago the UCI was in fact doing good work with the introduction of the biological passport and with Anne Gripper in charge of the anti-doping drive, but the return of LA coincided with the return of the Omerta [an Italian word that essentially refers to a 'code of silence - in cycling terms it meant that the riders were discouraged from speaking about doping in the peloton to outsiders]. as a result doping went away again as a topic of discussion.
so if this, the single biggest scandal in cycling, is allowed to happen without consequences and repercussions then the sport really is doomed. it might be like wrestling for example [laughter] with a following but it will never be a genuine sport again. it’s damaging for the sport but i think we all hope that it is profound enough, in the short term, to force the changes that are needed and never happened before.
that has to start with the UCI, with at least the removal of Verbruggen if not his successor [Pat McQuaid] as well.
cp: interesting that you mention Gripper who, along with Michael Ashenden when he was working with the UCI, felt that she was being censored by the her employer. and there’s Ashenden who realized the only was he could help cycling was to get out of the UCI.
SS: yeah and with Gripper, when she first started to work on the UCI anti-doping stuff, i could call her anytime for clarification on certain points or for her comments, and that ensured media confidence which translates to fan confidence. then Armstrong came back, and Gripper expressed her concerns that the UCI had waived its 6 month rule [that required any and every rider to be in the anti-doping programme for half a year before they could race] by 2 weeks so that LA could do the Tour Down Under in his comeback year.
she was quite upset by that and spoke about it to Cycling Weekly and as a result she was censored. i know that from that time on if i requested amn interview from her she told me that she had to get permission from Pat McQuaid or the management committee to speak, and more often than not she couldn’t speak. so that changed things a lot and was a sign to me that LA’s return was really bad for the sport.
cp: interesting that a lot of people don’t seem to realize that LA’s effect on the sport, from when he started to win the Tour back in 1999, didn’t just mean that cycling became more popular in certain countries but that also, a lot of people started to make a lot of money as a result of being ‘in’ with him. in regards to that, how much responsibility do you think that the brands that sponsored LA have in all of this? any? none? some?
SS: absolutely i do. they’re washing their hands of him now but it looks like the rats leaving the sinking ship, but these rats have waited until they are absolutely sure the ship is sinking before they leave.
cp: some of them have scuba gear on and are just now surfacing…
SS: [laughter] yeah, they drained every last drop that they could before they suddenly develop morals over behavior that for so long they just turned a blind eye to. Trek and the Lemond case is a perfect example of that, he expressed concerns – and has been completely vindicated – but he was pressured from Trek to shut up, and when he wouldn’t do that Trek dropped him.
Oakley would have had to have had iridium on the insides of their glasses not to have seen what was going on in the sport.
cp; [more laughter] and then there’s the journos…
SS: and then there’s the journalists right, with their ‘willful ignorance’. anyone with any degree of logic at least would have had suspicions. there’s journalists i know that publicly praised LA and wrote soft pieces but in private they told me ‘for all i know he’s doping’. in the end i feel that you have to be true to your profession and true to yourself and to write what you believe to be the truth and not just what you want to package as the truth. so yes, sponsors, certain members of the media, the UCI, they are guilty here.
and then the UCI welcomed LA back on his return, having said that the old generation was the problem and that the new generation was the hope, and then suddenly, within about 2 months, the guy who most represented that older generation was back.
cp: you mentioned that this was the biggest fraud in cycling, can you think of any others that have been bigger in all sport? i have racked my brain but nothing as yet.
SS: ah…. Balco maybe?
cp: yet Balco wasn’t so endemic, wasn’t so institutionalized.
SS: yeah and i don’t think there was that willful ignorance by the authorities in the Balco case as to what was going on.
cp: interesting also what you said about the journalists. i remember watching the races on TV back then and hearing the praise for these incredible things that the riders were doing, yet as a cyclist myself i had my own suspicions. i think even if you were a general sports fan and just followed the sport loosely, you knew that evidence was growing in relation to widespread and endemic doping – and yet those so closely involved, press, management and even riders themselves claim ‘i never knew’.
we had the phenomenon that this intrigue actually turned a few of the cycling writers into investigative journalists. it must have all looked so rosy when they first entered the sport, you get to go to France, Spain, Italy, have the aura of the pros rub off a little on you, and then they realize that, actually, it’s a pretty rotten dream.
SS: yeah, there’s a guy i used to work with who in the mid 2000′s made a lot of money writing about LA. he really had a lot of access to LA and put the right message out for him, yet i know for a fact that he had a lot of his own suspicions yet he just switched them off in order to write the stories that made him money and gained him access to Armstong. there was that decision for journalists. tow the line and write the schpiel? or keep my distance and write what i feel is actually going on.
i could have made a lot more money if i’d done the former but i chose the latter. but certain elements within the media were complicit and that allowed things to continue. a good example is [TV commentator] Paul Sherwin. he raced as a pro, worked as a PR man for Lance’s team, and really has never let go of that PR role. then you have Phil Ligget, who couldn’t have been more pro-Armstrong. and now he’s said he is convinced LA doped. in the Independent newspaper he said he feels very let down.
but the proof has been building for a long time, yet he waited until the proof was incontestable before this u-turn. just 2 weeks ago he was defending and praising LA. it’s illogical.
cp: we have Bjarne Riss and several others still working in cycling, Andersen and Vaughters, etc.
SS: yeah Riis doesn’t inspire confidence. i believe 100% Tyler Hamilton’s claim that Riis sent riders to Fuentes [a doping doctor, central to the Operacion Ouerto doping ring]. Basso went, Hamilton was going when he was with CSC, and there were rumors of others going who rode for CSC. Riis doped as a rider, and i just think he’s a leopard who changes his spots. Nicholas Roche is going to his team next year and i am not sure that’s a good idea at all.
Vaughters, he’s seen by many as being the transparent guy, but i am not fully satisfied with it all. i think the aims of Garmin are admirable but, i have found Jonathan on the past to be less than 100% clear on some issues, when i’ve asked him questions. they are proud of their internal testing programme, but i’ve asked for example how many tests are done each year and didn’t get an answer. we need to see the results, to know who’s running the tests and how often the tests are being done. if you bill yourself as transparent then we need to see this. in no way am i saying that there is a doping problem in the team but i do think they could do more to lead the way and to set an example.
also the UCI doesn’t publish its biological findings and figures. the teams pay money in, yet we don’t get the chance to see if the money is being spent as it should be or if there is targeted testing being done, and so on. there’s no doubt that since LA came back in 2008 the transparency has slid.
cp: should former dopers be allowed back into the sport, in management?
SS: it depends, you have good guys and bad guys. Vaughters i think can contribute to the sport whereas Bruyneel should be as far away from the sport as is humanly possible. if you’re going to have the Bruyneel types around then they need someone like Ashenden to be there to screen all the test results.
cp: do you think the UCI can regain the credibility that will allow it to survive?
SS: McQuaid talked a good fight at the beginning, but he’s been almost completely unavailable to to the press for 2 or 3 years, has been increasingly linked to Verbruggen, and he hasn’t helped himself by not speaking to the press. and whilst the old guard is in there it looks increasingly difficult for the UCI to inspire confidence. they need new faces there. amongst fans the UCI has just about no credibility. look at twitter and you can see that.
cp: well also amongst up pro riders, the guys i race with, we respect the commissaires, we are very grateful to the organizers and love the fact that we can race, but as far as the UCI goes we have no real sense of affiliation with or belonging to this organization. i think we need to see the ProTour riders standing up and making their voices heard here. we need this leadership. there is potential here, it needn’t all be doom and gloom, i think there is some potential for something to actually happen.
SS: cycling is in a precarious position right now, and i think there have been too many false starts. i think the biggest tragedy is if this isn’t a pivotal moment. i think anti-doping needs to be brought outside of the national federations, and for the UCI to undergo a structural change and ideally to see the faces change, and an independent body maybe set up by WADA to take on all the testing, with a guy like Ashenden to oversee things. the importance of this will be to show that cycling has the ability to turn itself around and to set an example. this is not a cycling matter at all it’s a sporting matter, and even beyond.
cp: i think it’s cultural.
SS: yeah it will show that wherever there is corruption it can be overcome.