2006 Westfield 200K Brevet

The Mavic Open Pro is the industry standard for a traditional lightweight racing rim. It has a box-like cross section for strength, and full double eyelets to distribute spoke tension. A brand-new Open Pro is about as round (in one dimension) and as flat (in the other) as a bicycle rim can be, and its machined braking surfaces shimmer when you turn them against the light. Four hundred twenty-five grams of extruded aluminum, the rim is 19.5 millimeters wide and barely three millimeters thick at any point. It is sleek and minimal and it makes you want to go fast.

The Open Pro that was part of my front wheel failed with a bang about ten miles north of Shelburne Falls, MA, not quite half way into this year's Westfield 200K brevet. I was riding in a paceline, my hands in the drops, when I heard a loud balloon-like pop and the sound of metal grinding against metal. The front of the bike dropped down about an inch and I swerved onto the shoulder, away from the guys riding behind me. I stopped and looked down. Large sections of the left wall of the rim, worn down by thousands of miles of braking, had sheared off, gashing the tire and tube and then wrapping themselves like giant wood shavings around the left fork blade. The metallic grating had been the sound of rim shards scraping the pretty orange paint off my Rambouillet's fork.

The paceline slowed down, turned around, looped back towards me. Clearly, no one could do anything to help me. Yet I had been lucky. At least the failure hadn't happened earlier, on one of the fast descents between Conway and Shelburne Falls, when Ted Lapinski and Jeff Scornavacca and I had nudged 75 Km/h on the cracked pavement.

I began to walk back to Shelburne Falls, but a friendly man working in his front yard gave me a ride back to town. All nearby bike shops were closed, so I stood on Main St., hoping for a ride back to Westfield. That's when Don Podolski showed up, riding sweep, and suggested that I look for a bicycle wheel in McCluskey's grocery store. Mike McCluskey, it turns out, is an avid cyclist, and keeps bicycle parts among the fancy sodas and the deli sandwiches. He is also exceedingly gracious and helpful, and removed the front wheel from his own bike so that I could finish my ride.

So there I was once again on that same stretch of road 10 miles north of Shelburne Falls, riding Mike's low spoke-count Bontrager racing wheel, a strange contrast to the more classical aesthetics of my Rambouillet. I had lost almost two hours, but the day was beautiful and yellow flowers dotted the fields along 112 North. Eventually I finished in 8:49—not bad considering all that had happened—to much back-slapping and encouragement from Rick Gowen and John Bailey and others still in the parking lot.